When asked Thursday morning to gauge the likelihood that the bill to legalize sports betting in Kentucky would pass the state Senate on the final day of the 2022 legislative session, the bill’s sponsor responded with his tongue firmly in his cheek.
“It still has a shot. Might be plus-300 at this point,” said Republican Rep. Adam Koenig, using gambling language to send a not-so-subtle message to opponents at about noon ET Thursday.
By 3 p.m., though, he moved the bill’s hypothetical odds to +600. And by 5:30 p.m, it was a deep longshot at +1500.
Now it’s off the board for this year.
Although the issue of legal sports betting advanced further than ever before in Kentucky — passing the House and getting at least some discussion in the Senate — the effort officially died in the Senate Committee on Economic Development, Tourism, and Labor despite multiple attempts to negotiate it onto the chamber floor for a vote. The bill would have legalized statewide digital and retail sports betting, in addition to online poker and daily fantasy sports.
HB 606 passed the House, 58-30, on March 18, and Senate Floor Majority Leader Damon Thayer moved it to what he considered a more favorable committee Wednesday “to give it a chance” on the final day of the legislative session. Thayer also said Wednesday that the bill would not move to the floor unless it had the votes to pass.
But before the Senate broke for lunch Thursday, it became increasingly apparent that HB 606 would not succeed in the Senate. Thayer expressed frustration with the status of the bill during and after a meeting with reporters on the floor.
“I just told them I’m tired of being the spokesman for the people who don’t support it. I support the sports betting bill,” Thayer said in a telephone interview with Sports Handle during the break. Earlier, he told reporters that he felt sports betting was a “natural extension of our history and tradition of betting on horses in Kentucky.”
We spoke with Sen. Thayer around the same time as Gov. Beshear spoke and he said he was frustrated over not getting sports betting through yet. pic.twitter.com/4Rvk2i4p4u
— Joe Ragusa (@JoeRagusa) April 14, 2022
Just past 8:30 p.m., however, Thayer took to the Senate floor describing the General Assembly’s accomplishments from the legislative session, then pivoted to the bills that “didn’t make it.” He spoke about the sports betting bill in the past tense.
“I’m personally disappointed that we were unable to pass sports betting. … We just don’t have the votes,” Thayer said. “I think that will change by next year. I will continue to advocate for us adding this to our betting menu. … I think we should allow the people of Kentucky to make a choice of their own free will, like all of our surrounding states do, to be able to make a legal wager on sports.”
Not enough votes?
Outside observers have suggested that the bill had sufficient overall votes for passage, but that Senate leaders wouldn’t bring it to a floor vote because it lacked support from a majority of the chamber’s Republicans. Thayer dismissed that claim.
38 state Senators in Kentucky
20 votes would pass sports gambling
8 Democrats in the Senate…all would vote yes
That means that 12 Republicans should be enough
14 Republicans are for it
GOP leaders require “majority of GOP” or no vote
So it won’t pass, even with 22 yes
— Matt Jones (@KySportsRadio) April 14, 2022
“That’s what some people like to say, but right now, it wouldn’t have enough to pass, even if all the Democrats voted for it,” Thayer maintained Thursday afternoon during a break.
Senate President Robert Stivers also told the Louisville Courier Journal after the session that the sports betting bill was several votes short of majority support in the Senate. The Kentucky Senate has 30 Republicans and eight Democrats, and Gov. Andy Beshear has supported the idea of sports betting in Kentucky. Koenig struggled with getting enough Republican support in the House last session, when a similar bill died.
Earlier, Beshear had specifically called out Thayer during a news conference.
“My thought is, if Damon Thayer wanted sports betting to pass, he’d get it passed,” the governor said. “It’s time. The people of Kentucky absolutely want this.”
Thayer responded by calling Beshear “out of touch” and “hyperpartisan,” among other things.
.@GovAndyBeshear again plays politics and shows a total lack of understanding on how the legislature works. Blaming me proves he’s totally irrelevant, out of touch & hyperpartisan.
I support #sportsbetting but I can’t make people vote yes if they are opposed. https://t.co/XjGNYUqmP1
— damon thayer (@damon_thayer) April 14, 2022
The Senate majority leadership never did call a floor vote on the bill, which meant senators were not put on record as to where they stand on sports betting.
“In the last week, a lot of the undecideds went to no votes,” Thayer said. “We don’t waste our time voting on bills that don’t have the votes to pass. Time is a precious commodity. We’re not like the U.S. Congress or legislatures in other states that meet year-round. We have 60 days every other year. That’s it.”
Bill had implications with ‘gray’ machines ban
The main political ramification of the sports betting bill not getting to a Senate vote was that the House refused to accept the Senate’s changes, through concurrence, to another bill (HB 608) that intended to ban unregulated gambling terminals called “gray machines.” Also referred to as “skill games,” the gambling devices are located in places like truck stops, convenience stores, and bars.
That bill won approval in the House, 50-31, on March 18. On Wednesday, it passed the Senate, 24-13, but with an amendment that would need to be approved by the House before it could gain full passage.
In the late afternoon Thursday, Koenig said that without the sports betting bill, the Senate change to HB 608 “doesn’t have the votes in the House, and it’s not even close.”
That sentiment was also expressed by Speaker of the House David Osborne, who told local station Spectrum News 1 that “without the passage of sports betting, it makes it next to impossible for us to concur with the changes they made to the gray machine bill.”
"Obviously, a lot of things will change in the next 11 hours; that's what happens on the last night of session," House Speaker David Osborne just told me regarding sports betting.
He said changes made to HB 608, the "gray machines" bill, may be held up over the issue pic.twitter.com/EkxJhGJA8M
— Joe Ragusa (@JoeRagusa) April 14, 2022
Thayer even said he tried to make a “last-minute deal” to get the sports betting and gray games bills through, but his proposal did not get enough support.
The House approved and sent four gambling-related bills to the Senate during the legislative session, but only one made its way to the governor’s desk — a bill that would essentially eliminate breakage in parimutuel horse racing payouts and balance parimutuel taxes.
“There was really no opposition to it,” Koenig said of the breakage/parimutuel bill. “There was a lot in there for everybody. … I want to be there for the first day they pay to the penny, and I want a picture next to the toteboard for that first payout.”
A bill that would create a $50 million fund to tap for problem gaming programs also did not get committee approval for a Senate floor vote, to Koenig’s disappointment.
“If we don’t approve sports betting, we still have, from last year, $6 billion in parimutuel wagering, $1.5 billion in lottery, and god knows what in charitable gaming,” he said earlier in the week. “We need to fund [problem gaming programs].”
You can bet — well, maybe not — Koenig will sponsor another sports wagering bill in the 2023 legislative session. Although unsuccessful in 2022, he has long contended that he will outlast his opponents. He said Monday that “elections can change outlooks.” Although he was disappointed Thursday night, progress was made.
“For four years I’ve been working on it in the House, and I finally got it passed, and the Senate had it for four weeks,” Koenig said. “I’m frustrated, but it’s not a complete surprise, given they only had four weeks to focus on it.”
And will the next sports betting bill look different in 2023?
“We’ll figure that out later,” Koenig said. “[The opposition is] not the details of the bill. It’s not about constitutionality. If it was a secret ballot, it would pass 28-10. It’s about willingness. … It’s postponing the inevitable. It’s going to happen soon. I wish it was today, but it wasn’t.
“Here’s how we go forward. You gotta show up and vote, find out where the candidates are on this issue, and express how you feel about it. That’s how we change it.”
Thayer also had parting advice for advocates and citizens who support legalizing sports betting in Kentucky, who have been quite outspoken about the political process surrounding the bill.
“I support sports betting, but my god, the absolute offense that people take at this is the ultimate first-world problem,” Thayer said after the session. “Nobody’s life is getting worse because we didn’t pass sports betting. We pass bills on all kinds of serious issues, and I’m for sports betting, and I’m more energized than ever, but my god, people. Take a chill pill.
“My only advice to the advocates for sports betting is to tell them that shaming their opponents on Twitter is not the way to get [sports betting] passed in Kentucky. There are swing voters who I think can be convinced, and I just think they should adopt a respectful tone and make their case in a respectful manner.”
Every elected republican in the state, @damon_thayer & @kysenatepres as much as any, should be humiliated for what they did to Kentucky tonight. Speak out.
For the foreseeable future Kentuckians will drive to EVERY bordering state to place their sports bet. Both are pathetic. https://t.co/BfQAMbTckk
— T.J. Walker (@TJWalkerRadio) April 15, 2022