Kentucky’s revenues from sports wagering on pace to significantly exceed projections, governor says

December 8, 2023 3:40 PM
Photo: Office of Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear
  • Bruce Schreiner, Associated Press
December 8, 2023 3:40 PM
  • Bruce Schreiner, Associated Press

Kentucky has collected stronger than projected tax revenues from sports wagering in the weeks since betting on ballgames became legal in the Bluegrass State, Gov. Andy Beshear said Thursday.

Story continues below

Initial numbers show the state brought in nearly $8 million in tax dollars in the opening two months, the governor said at his weekly news conference at the state Capitol in Frankfort.

That early showing, he said, has Kentucky on a pace that would easily beat the revenue projection that was floated when the sports betting bill was being debated by lawmakers earlier in the year.

“It is an incredible start, and if it continues, we will significantly exceed the $23 million in (annual) projected revenue from sports wagering,” he said. “These tax dollars will support the oversight of sports wagering, establish a problem gambling fund and primarily help our pension systems here in Kentucky.”

Some prominent supporters of legalizing sports wagering had predicted higher revenue amounts.

Sports wagering launched in Kentucky amid fanfare in early September, in time for the NFL regular season. The Democratic governor placed the first sports bet at Churchill Downs in Louisville, home of the Kentucky Derby. At a betting facility in Lexington, state Senate Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer, a Republican who helped champion the sports betting legislation, placed his own wager amid the launch.

Sports wagering facilities opened in the first phase of the state’s rollout. Mobile wagering started in late September, allowing Kentuckians to place sports wagers on their smartphones.

More than $656 million has been wagered so far, the governor said Thursday. The breakdown includes about $26.8 million wagered in-person at the state’s licensed retail sportsbooks and about $629.5 million wagered through mobile devices. An average of $65.2 million is being wagered each week, he said.

The launch has stopped the siphoning of revenue to other states where Kentuckians previously placed sports bets, Beshear and other supporters have said.

“Remember, before we legalized sports betting, this money was going to other states or the betting was being done illegally,” the governor said Thursday.

Sports betting became a reality in Kentucky after a prolonged political fight. The state’s Republican-dominated Legislature finished work on the bill to legalize, regulate and tax sports wagering in late March during the final hours of its annual session. Beshear quickly signed the measure into law.

For some Kentuckians, the launch of sports wagering was a milestone they thought might never occur, after proposals to legalize it died in previous years.

But critics of sports betting see it as an addictive form of gambling that will hurt Kentucky families.

David Walls, executive director of The Family Foundation, has denounced it as an “expansion of predatory gambling,” calling it a “lose-lose for Kentuckians, especially for children and the vulnerable.”

A small percentage of sports wagering tax revenue will flow into a fund to help combat problem gambling. Most of the revenue will flow into Kentucky’s public pension system.