What if you could bet on horse racing the same way you bet on an NFL game in the United States? That’s a proposition a Kentucky thoroughbred-racing think tank wants Bluegrass State lawmakers to consider. And it’s not really outside of the box — according to a spokesman from the think tank, bettors in Asia, Australia and Europe already bet on horse racing this way, in addition to or instead of traditional pari-mutuel betting. Fixed odds horse racing wagering has also taken root in New Jersey, via DraftKings Sportsbook and the Betfair Exchange.
According to Kentucky’s River City News, at a recent meeting of the Interim Joint Committee on Licensing, Occupations and Administrative Regulations, Senate Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer asked committee co-chairman Adam Koenig to include fixed-odds wagering on horse racing when Koenig files his sports betting bill. Koenig proposed sports betting legislation in the 2019 session, and told Sports Handle in September that he’ll file again for the 2020 session.
“I think this is an idea whose time has come,” Thayer was quoted as saying in the River City News. “I’m supportive of it. And I would like to see Kentucky lead the way on this.”
Sports betting has better shot in 2020
Kentucky lawmakers and stakeholders have spent considerable time discussing and exploring sports betting, from holding conferences to commissioning a study to creating a legislative working group to drafting bills, but has been unable to reach enough of a consensus to move legislation for an effort that began in 2017.
Any new law involving money must originate in the House in Kentucky, and Koenig says the legislature should have a better shot at legalization in 2020 — in even years, only a simple majority is needed to legalize. In odd years, the state legislature needs 60 percent approval. Koenig said sports betting had more than the 51 percent of votes it needed in 2019.
Patrick Cummings, formerly with the Hong Kong Jockey Club and now with the Thoroughbred Idea Foundation of Lexington, presented the fixed odds idea to lawmakers during a hearing earlier this fall.
In the U.S., betting on horse racing is pari-mutuel betting, meaning that people place wagers against other bettors and the odds shift up until the race starts, while the “house” or track take a cut before distributing winnings. In traditional fixed odds sports betting, patrons place a wager against the house on a certain, set number, meaning they can identify the odds and place their bet, and those odds get locked in at the time the wager is placed.
Great discussion today on this topic. Much agreement among committee members that this is a good idea that should be addressed. https://t.co/LWfqrdnlEW
— Adam Koenig (@repkoenig) October 2, 2019
Cummings believes that fixed-rate wagering on horse racing would give Kentucky, which has been considering but not acted upon legal sports betting, one more option when it comes to legal sports betting.
“This is clearly an opportunity to develop a complementary product for racing’s existing customers while introducing a modern form of betting for new ones as well,” Cummings said during the hearing, while explaining why pari-mutuel betting isn’t being embraced by younger generations. “This opportunity should be embraced with Kentucky leading the way.”
Gubernatorial candidate pro gambling
Besides needing fewer votes to get out of the legislature, Kentucky lawmakers could be bringing sports betting to a new governor. Sitting Governor Republic Matt Bevin hasn’t warmed up to sports betting as a way to help solve the state’s pension problem. Koenig said the state’s veto override threshold is “low,” so even if Bevin were to veto legislation, it could get passed.
But more appealing, it seems, would be to bring sports betting to challenger Andy Beshear, who is running on a pro-gambling platform, and during a debate earlier this fall enthusiastically endorsed sports betting.
“We talk about being competitive, other states are eating our lunch. It’s Tennessee that just authorized sports betting. It is Indiana [and its casinos] that has leached money off of us,” he said during a debate in Paducah. “We already lose $550 mm of tax revenue from what Kentuckians bet in our border states in casinos. It’s time for casino gaming, it’s time to treat fantasy sports for what they are, it’s time for sports betting, and we need to prepare for online poker, which is coming.”
Kentucky is surrounded by states with legal sports betting, including West Virginia, Tennessee and Indiana, all of which have live legal sports betting, and Illinois, which has legalized but not launched. In addition, Ohio lawmakers could potentially legalize before the end of the year. Lawmakers in both Virginia and Missouri filed sports betting bills in 2019 with no action, and both are likely to renew efforts in 2020.