Kentucky lawmakers haven’t found a way to legalize sports betting since the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act was struck down by the Supreme Court in May 2018. It hasn’t been for lack of trying.
But by 2020, sports betting could get just the jolt it needs — for two reasons. If Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andy Beshear can unseat sitting Republican Governor Matt Bevin, lawmakers would have the governor on their side. And due to an idiosyncrasy in the state constitution, revenue bills need 60 percent of the House to pass in odd-numbered years, but only 51 percent in even-numbered year.
“We’re going to have a much better chance this year,” Republican Representative Adam Koenig told Sports Handle.
Sports betting as salve for pension woes
In announcing his candidacy last week, Beshear enthusiastically embraced an expansion of gaming — and sports betting, in particular — in the Bluegrass State. Political polling shows that Bevin has an edge over Beshear, who in December 2018 would have been the favorite.
“Kentucky can’t afford to fall behind our neighboring states who are moving forward with the rest of the country on expanded gaming,” Beshear was quoted in August as saying in Kentucky Today. “We lose out on hundreds of millions of dollars a year. As governor, I will work to legalize sports betting, casinos, fantasy sports and prepare for online poker, and use the revenue from these activities as a dedicated funding stream for our public pension system.”
Instead of slashing pension benefits for teachers and first responders like Matt Bevin has tried to do, we should find new revenue streams like expanded gaming and sports betting. This is a common-sense solution for Kentucky workers. https://t.co/FRTXGtIqF4
— Andy Beshear (@AndyBeshearKY) September 13, 2019
State lawmakers have been trying to sell sports betting as a way to alleviate the state’s pension troubles, which rank among the worst in the nation.
“It’s the most severely underfunded plan in the country,” said John Farris, former chairman of the Kentucky Pension Systems Board. According to the Courier-Journal, Kentucky has an enormous $43 billion pension deficit.
Bevin’s view is that sports betting, or any gambling expansion, won’t touch the state’s pension problems. Not even New Jersey, in which bettors placed $3.2 billion in wagers, allowing the state to collect $23.8 mm in taxes in the first 12 months of legal sports betting, has brought in enough to scratch the surface of a $43-billion shortfall. And Kentucky isn’t likely to come close to New Jersey‘s numbers — the Garden State gets traffic from New York State and City, as well as other neighboring states, and has a population of about 9 million. But it would be something.
Two bills requested for pre-filing, more to come in session
Located in America’s heartland, Kentucky may have already lost the opportunity to draw bettors from neighboring states as Illinois, Indiana, Tennessee and West Virginia have already legalized sports wagering, while Ohio is moving in that direction.
According to Kentucky Today, Bevin shared this during a radio interview earlier this year:
“The idea that we could make maybe $200 million a year with casino gambling taxes, means there are billions being spent that might better be spent somewhere else,” Bevin said. “If we all wanted to gamble and smoke pot at the same time, it would still be 200 years, just to earn the money we already owe today. These are not serious solutions.”
Serious or not, several lawmakers have been carrying the sports betting torch. Beyond that, Kentucky lawmakers and stakeholders have had multiple gatherings to discuss what sports betting would look like and a study by Dinsmore & Shohl, LLP in 2018, showed the state, although it is more conservative, might be “friendlier” to sports betting than it has been in the past.
With a lower vote threshold needed in 2020, sports betting would have a clearer path to the governor’s desk. Last year, according to Koenig, sports betting “didn’t have the 60 percent, but did have comfortably more than 51 percent” of needed votes. And even if Bevin remains in office, Koenig thinks sports betting has a great shot a being legalized.
Lawmakers could override gubernatorial veto
“Unlike many states, we have a very low veto-override threshold,” Koenig said. “My concern is getting the 51 percent of the votes in the House, and that will override the veto.”
Koenig will partner with Senate Majority Leader Damon Thayer on legislation, which Koenig says he’ll likely filed early in the 2020 session, which begins January 7, 2020. Any tax-related legislation must originate in the House.
Reason #11 that the leagues do not need integrity fees, or to be paid for league data. https://t.co/VYE9Ij9qDZ
— Adam Koenig (@repkoenig) September 4, 2019
Last year, Koenig filed a bill that would have allowed sports betting, daily fantasy sports and online poker. The bill was unanimously approved by the House Licensing, Occupations and Administrative Regulations Committee, but was never discussed on the floor. Meanwhile, Democratic Senator Julian Carroll proposed a sports betting bill in 2019 that never even got to committee. He’s already pre-filed a request for a sports betting bill ahead of the 2020 session.
Democrat Representatives Al Gentry and Dennis Keene also proposed a sports betting bill ahead of the 2019 session, but HB 12 didn’t get a hearing. Keene has already pre-filed a request for a broader gaming bill that appears it will include sports betting in 2020. The bill allows for four physical casinos in the state and requires local approval for casino sites.