FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) – Mounting a late-session push after years of setbacks, supporters of legalizing sports betting in Kentucky won initial backing Wednesday as their measure cleared a House committee.
The bill has more hurdles to overcome in the fast-paced final days of the 2022 legislative session. Similar measures died in prior years, a reflection of how divisive gambling is in the state that’s home to Churchill Downs, where the Kentucky Derby is run.
The lead sponsor of the sports wagering bill, Republican Rep. Adam Koenig, sounded hopeful Wednesday that the outcome for the long-running issue could be different this year.
“I think we’re in position, hopefully, to have better luck going forward,” he told the committee.
The bill gained bipartisan support in clearing the House committee on the 49th day of this year’s 60-day session. It still needs to win approval in the full House and in the Senate.
It’s part of a broad package of gambling-related bills that won approval Wednesday from the House committee. Other measures that advanced would:
-Make changes to the state’s tax structure for parimutuel wagering on horse races. The measure proposes a 1.5% tax on all parimutuel bets, including historical horse racing, simulcast bets and advance-deposit wagering.
-Create a fund to help Kentuckians struggling with gambling addictions. The initiative would focus on awareness, prevention and treatment efforts. The measure would allocate $225 million from the state’s 2021 settlement with an internet gambling site.
“It is no secret that problems can arise when there is the access to any kind of gambling,” Koenig said. “We owe it to our fellow Kentuckians to provide access to these services and address gambling addiction head on.”
-Outlaw the use of so-called gray machines, which look like slot machines and pay out cash prizes to successful players. The machines have proliferated in convenience stores across the state.
Thirty-three other states have legalized sports wagering, Koenig said. His measure would regulate an activity that already exists in the Bluegrass State, he said, pointing to estimates that millions of dollars are wagered illegally on sports every year in Kentucky.
“I think it’s important to bring those people out of the shadows, to dry up the black market and make sure that the people of this state have the benefits of their government protecting them,” he said. “When you go to a bookie and if you have a good weekend and you go to collect and your bookie doesn’t want to pay you, where do you go? What recourse do you have? The answer is none.”
The bill drew opposition from The Family Foundation, a conservative group opposed to expanded gambling. David Walls, the foundation’s executive director, said the sports wagering measure was an example of “bad government and bad policy.”
“This type of predatory gambling is designed to prey on human weakness, with the government colluding with the gambling industry to exploit our fellow Kentuckians,” he said.
Despite Kentucky’s position as a leading horse racing state, efforts to expand gambling have been met with fierce resistance for years.
Last year, Kentucky’s horse industry won a high-stakes showdown when lawmakers enacted legislation aimed at securing the legal status of wagering on historical racing machines. The slots-style ventures proliferated in the past decade and tracks reinvested some of the revenue to make Kentucky’s horse racing circuit more competitive with casino-backed tracks in other states.
That legislation stemmed from a court ruling that had jeopardized historical horse racing operations in Kentucky. Historical racing machines allow people to bet on randomly generated, past horse races. The games typically show video of condensed horse races.