LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Sports betting has cleared another hurdle in the state legislature. A bill making the activity legal passed through a senate committee this morning.
The panel sent the measure to the full Senate, setting up a potentially dramatic vote on whether the state that's home to the Kentucky Derby should let its residents legally wager on other sporting events.
“The people of Kentucky want this,” Senate Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer said after his vote in favor. “It’s time that we give them the choice — for free will, God-given free will — to engage in legal sports betting.”
House Bill 551 now heads to the senate floor, the last measure that has to happen before the bill reaches the Governor’s desk.
Representative Michael Meredith pleaded his case before the committee, asking senators to give his sports betting bill the green light.
“I think it’s smart that we regulate this as a state," Meredith said.
The lone no vote came from Committee Chair Senator John Schickel, accompanied by opposition from organizations like the Kentucky Baptist Convention
“It’s often the poorest people of our communities who are most venerable to the slick advertisements and the promise that the Draft Kings will put out, the Fan Duals will put out about get rich quick," KBC's Todd Gray said.
Opponents also called sports betting a highly addictive form of gambling, and warned the social costs would accumulate, hurting families, if the bill becomes law. The result would be “more broken families, increased addictions and divorce,” said David Walls, executive director of The Family Foundation.
The bill would “turn every iPhone in Kentucky into a digital casino” for wagering on sporting events, Walls said. And the bill comes at a time when high inflation is pinching family budgets, he said.
House Bill 551 would allow Kentucky’s horse racing tracks to be licensed as sports betting facilities for a $500,000 upfront fee and an annual renewal fee of $50,000.
Participating tracks could contract with up to three service providers to provide sports wagering services at the track itself, or through online sites and mobile applications. Service providers would have to pay $50,000 for an initial license, with a $10,000 annual renewal fee.
Under the bill, the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission would regulate sports wagering operations.
The bill's Senate prospects are uncertain, due to a higher procedural hurdle to overcome. It needs a three-fifths vote in each chamber to pass, since it’s a revenue-producing bill in an odd-numbered year. Senate Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer says it still needs a few more votes in order to pass through his chamber.
“The 23 vote threshold required during a short session is a big hurdle," he said. "If we only require 20 votes, like in a 60 day session, I think we could pass it but getting to 23 votes is going to be a challenge.”
Representative Meredith also adds he expects sports betting to bring in around $23 million in annual tax revenue. This money will help pay for state employee pensions. A small percentage will also go towards a dedicated problem gaming fund to help people with gambling addictions.
If the measure clears both houses before the end of the legislative session, Gov. Andy Beshear is not expected to veto it.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.