The race is on to become the first state to legalize sports betting in 2020, as more than a dozen legislatures are currently debating bills to regulate the industry. But based on the most recent developments with Kentucky lawmakers, the American capital of horse racing – and the avalanche of annual betting on its eponymous Derby – has lost the inside lane towards legalization.
Kentucky Lawmakers Look to Kill Bill by Adding Burdensome Amendments
In the Bluegrass State, state representative Adam Koenig (R-69) is making his third attempt to regulate sports betting in as many years.
His efforts in 2018 failed to result in even a committee clearance, and while last year’s bill did escape the House Committee on Licensing, Occupations, and Administrative Regulations which Koenig chairs, it died on the vine within the full House.
This time around, Koenig has House Bill 137 on the docket in hopes of permiting both brick and mortar and online / mobile sportsbooks to operate throughout Kentucky. After newly elected Governor Adam Beshear publicly offered his bipartisan endorsement of the legislation, Koenig oversaw an 18-0 committee vote in favor of HB-137 last month.
That set sports betting up for a full floor vote, but despite lawmakers in the Senate going on record to say they have a majority in favor at the ready, Koenig’s colleagues in the House have sat on their proverbial hands thus far.
On Tuesday, their inaction was replaced by a whirlwind of amendment activity, one Koenig believes was intended to derail HB-137 altogether. Within the 11 amendments proposed on the House floor this week, various lawmakers are seeking to allow local jurisdictions to opt out of regulated sports betting, raise taxes and fees levied on operators, and even permit restaurants to offer sportsbook services.
In comments made to Legal Sports Report this week, Koenig made it clear that he was never presented with these amendments for review purposes. He also told the gaming industry news outlet that the bombardment of “poison pill” amendments was orchestrated by opponents of expanded legal gambling:
“I don’t believe their heart is in the right place, shall we say.
Most of the people who filed those amendments would get rid of the lottery and horse racing if they could.
I will try to get them defeated on the floor, and if the bill comes up for a vote then I probably have the votes to defeat all the amendments.”
Confirming those concerns, state representative Chris Fugate (R-84) recently told the Harlan Enterprise that social conservatives in the state are adamantly opposed to any new forms of legal gambling:
“Gambling is not the answer.
If you think about when we depend on the people of our districts to lose money so the state can gain money, it’s not biblical first of all.
It’s against the bible. It’s morally wrong.”
Koenig Fires Back at Contradictory Lotto Retailer Amendment
While Kentucky lawmakers like Fugate have firmly positioned themselves against any legal sportsbooks, state representative Richard Heath (R-2) is floating an amendment that takes the opposite approach.
Heath’s amendment would expand the selection of prospective sportsbook operators from the seven – six horse racing tracks and the Kentucky Speedway auto racing venue – sought under Koenig’s bill. If approved, Heath’s amendment would add any of Kentucky’s more than 3,200 licensed lottery retailers to the list.
As he told Legal Sports Report, Koenig doesn’t buy the notion that turning convenience stores into de facto sportsbooks has been introduced in good faith:
“I don’t understand that from someone who is adamantly against gambling to allow it to be everywhere all the time
I might understand it better if the sponsor talked to me about it.
It seems like that’s just a shot at our horse racing industry that creates 80,000 jobs and is the signature of our state.”