After a Kentucky sports betting bill sailed through a unanimous committee vote within the House of Representatives three weeks ago, legal wagering in the Bluegrass State appeared to be a lock.
House Bill 137 – which would allow both physical and online / mobile sportsbooks to operate legally – moved forward via an 18-0 vote by the House Committee on Licensing, Occupations and Administrative Regulations on January 15.
At that time, the legislation’s sponsor state representative Adam Koenig (R-69) was buoyed by a bipartisan statement of public support from Kentucky’s new Democratic Governor Adam Beshear.
But despite the apparent momentum behind regulated sports betting, the full House hasn’t taken HB-137 up for a floor vote as of yet.
Kentucky Sports Betting Bill stalled by Social Conservatives in House
Speaking with the Lexington Herald-Leader on February 3, House Speaker David Osborne (R-59) remained reticent when asked about the lack of recent progress on legalized sports betting:
“It’s still being discussed in caucus.
I think that gambling in general remains a very divisive issue in Kentucky.
It’s still an issue that invokes very strong emotions.”
Osborne’s comments by state representative David Hale (R-74) – a fellow social conservative who also serves as a pastor with his local Korea Church of God – in the latter’s own interview with the newspaper:
“I know there’s horse racing here and has been for decades and we have the lottery and I know both of those are here to stay.
But I just feel like this sports betting issue, it’s such an enticement.
I think the convenience of it, of being able to eventually be able to put it on your phone as an app and sit in your home and wager on this, it just makes it such a convenient opportunity that I think it could be abused very much by individuals.”
If approved by the full House, followed by Senate confirmation and a final signature from Beshear, HB-137 would task the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission (KHRC) with regulating the sports betting industry. Brick and mortar sportsbooks would only be permitted to operate within licensed horse racing tracks and the Kentucky Speedway auto racing venue, but online / mobile wagering would be allowed.
In a shift from last year’s failed sports betting bill, Koenig added language to HB-137 authorizing wagers on collegiate athletics, along with pro leagues.
Senate Leader Says He Has the Votes for Passage Ready and Waiting
While the House continues to dither and delay, Koenig told the Louisville Courier-Journal that he believed the stalling tactics were designed to spark fear over a lack of support in the Senate:
“The opponents are trying to scare some people, saying the Senate wouldn’t take it up, and clearly that’s not looking like the case.
So that gets us a little bit closer to getting it passed out of the House.”
I think there’s some folks who just need the time to talk to their constituents and get comfortable and know what they’re doing before the time comes when we vote it out.”
Speaking with the same newspaper, Senate Majority Leader Damon Thayer (R-17) confirmed that sports betting is supported by a majority of lawmakers within the 38-member chamber:
“I think we’ve got the votes to pass it if it gets here anytime soon.”
Thayer also brushed off a question about the longshot casino gambling bill introduced in the Senate, saying his interest at the moment lies in pushing HB-137 over the legislative finish line:
“Right now, I’m trying to focus on getting the votes for sports betting.
I’m trying to focus on something that’s realistic.”