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Gov. Beshear signs Kentucky sports betting bill into law

Frankfort, Kentucky - State Capitol Building
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Kentucky lawmakers passed House Bill 551 this week, which legalizes in-person and online sports betting in the commonwealth.

Horse racetrack associations like Churchill Downs will have the exclusive right to become sports wagering venues and can partner with gambling companies like DraftKings and FanDuel under the new law.

Sports wagering will soon be legal in Kentucky after Gov. Andy Beshear signed House Bill 551 into law Friday.

The measure will allow racetracks to become licensed sports betting facilities and partner with established gambling companies like DraftKings and FanDuel. Though similar bills languished in the legislature for years, this year’s attempt cleared the conservative state Senate on the last day of this year’s lawmaking session.

Beshear said at a press conference that the new law would make the commonwealth competitive with neighboring states that have already legalized sports betting.

“Our dollars were supporting Indiana, West Virginia, Ohio and other states. But now, after years of urging action, sports betting is finally going to be legal in Kentucky. We made it happen,” he said.

Before the new policy, betting on horse races was the only legal form of sports wagering in Kentucky.

State Rep. Michael Meredith, a Republican from Oakland and primary sponsor of the bill, said the measure didn't include fantasy sports or online poker, which he referred to as iGaming, in order to make it easier to pass out of the legislature.

“The national model has been to move towards sports wagering. iGaming has not been that popular across the country as of yet, and so it made sense to pull that out. And then there just wasn't a lot of energy around the fantasy issue one way or the other, frankly,” Meredith said.

Rep. Michael Meredith, a Republican from Oakland and HB 551's primary sponsor, said the measure would combat unregulated sports betting.
Courtesy of the Legislative Research Commission
Rep. Michael Meredith, a Republican from Oakland and HB 551's primary sponsor, said the measure would combat unregulated sports betting.

Sports gambling is estimated to bring in up to $23 million in annual tax revenue and licensing fees. The money will go toward regulating the new industry, with 2.5% earmarked for gambling addiction resources. The rest will be added to the state’s pension funds.

The Kentucky Horse Racing Commission, which oversees racetracks in the state, has until year’s end to set up a system to oversee and operate sports gambling. It will determine whether to grant licenses to racetracks that apply for sports betting.

Meredith said horse racing companies were given exclusive rights to become sports betting venues because they already have a track record managing gambling in the state.

“If you look across the spectrum in many states, DraftKings, FanDuel and those companies are tethered to a casino or something like that. And they're providing service for the casino. With us not being a casino state, it made sense to tether them to the racetracks where we do wagering in Kentucky and have for years,” Meredith said.

Martin Cothran, an opponent to the bill with the conservative Family Foundation, arguedin a 2020 Courier Journal op-ed that expanding sports gambling would require an amendment to the state constitution.

Meredith argued the state constitution doesn’t prohibit sports wagering and that he doesn’t think a legal challenge to the law would be successful.

Jacob is LPM's Business and Development Reporter. Email Jacob at jmunoz@lpm.org.