Effort To Legalize Sports Betting In Kentucky Nears Deadline

April 11, 2022
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Wagering on horse races has been legal in Kentucky for a long time, but the latest effort to legalize and regulate sports betting in the Bluegrass State is facing strong opposition from rural politicians as lawmakers wrap up this year’s legislative session.

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Wagering on horse races has been legal in Kentucky for decades, but the latest effort to legalize and regulate sports betting in the Bluegrass State is facing strong opposition from Senate leadership and rural politicians as lawmakers wrap up this year’s legislative session.

Lawmakers will return to Frankfort for two final days on Wednesday (April 13) and Thursday (April 14), with House Bill 606 seemingly facing long odds of passage in the Senate amid opposition led by Republican Senate President Robert Stivers.

Stivers told reporters on Thursday that he was “kind of ambivalent towards it.”

“It is not that big of a fiscal issue on our budget,” Stivers said. “As for an entertainment value, it would be what I would call either an appetizer or a dessert.”

State Representative Adam Koenig, a Republican who has supported the legalization of sports betting and other forms of gaming, disagreed with Stivers’ suggestion that wagering would not have an impact on the state’s budget.

Koenig said some studies show Kentucky could earn between $25m and $40m annually in new taxes. The bill also legalizes online poker and daily fantasy sports, with tax revenues directed toward the state’s pension funds.

“I’ll be working it until the end of the day Thursday,” Koenig said on Twitter.

The Kentucky House passed HB 606 in March by a vote of 58-30, but the bill has stalled in the Senate, leaving supporters just two days to get it across the finish line and sent to Democratic Governor Andy Beshear for his signature.

When the Senate returns on Wednesday, senators also still need to deal with two other prominent gambling bills.

As approved by the lower house, House Bill 608 would ban so-called “grey-market” machines that resemble slot machines but are unregulated, while House Bill 609 would create the Kentucky Problem Gambling Assistance Fund.

The fund uses $225m of the $300m settlement agreed with Flutter Entertainment last year related to the former activities of PokerStars in Kentucky to create the fund that will provide services for residents dealing with a gambling addiction.

As of Sunday, Beshear had not signed House Bill 607 which sets taxes for all pari-mutuel wagering at 1.5 percent, including historical horseracing machines, simulcast bets and advance-deposit wagering.

The measure is expected to increase tax revenues for Kentucky by $27m per year.

Casino Rules Near Passage In Nebraska

As Kentucky lawmakers plan a last-ditch effort to legalize sports betting, a bill that would slow the development of casinos in Nebraska is pending final approval by state lawmakers.

The Nebraska legislature debated Legislative Bill 876 for almost 40 minutes Friday (April 8) before adjourning for the weekend without a final vote.

It would allow casinos in the six Nebraska counties that already have licensed racetracks, but any company seeking to build a casino in another part of the state would have to wait for the Nebraska Racing and Gaming Commission to conduct a study looking at the potential impact.

The commission would approve or deny licenses based on its report, which would be due by January 1, 2025. Plans for seven new tracks with casinos have been announced since a November 2020 referendum was approved.

On Friday, several senators expressed their opposition to the bill, saying the current structure that voters approved leaves the western part of Nebraska out of consideration for a racetrack and casino for at least three years.

“I don’t think it makes sense that two-thirds of the landmass of the state is being left out of this and then we are being forced to wait three years,” Senator Mike Jacobson, a Republican, said during debate on the measure.

Jacobson said he appreciated that the 2020 referendum talked about racetracks, but he was opposed to forcing the study period to go three years and urged for an expedited study.

“I’m still concerned that if we are going to have gambling in Nebraska that it ought to be open to the entire state not just the eastern two-thirds,” said Jacobson, whose district includes North Platte.

“It seems like all of us who live out west in North Platte, Ogallala, and Gering, are three [communities] that have expressed interest in being a part of this,” Jacobson said. “I feel like we are being left out.”

Senator Tom Briese, a Republican who sponsored LB 876, urged his colleagues to support his measure, saying it was a result of a lot of negotiations within the Nebraska legislature's General Affairs Committee.

He said he appreciated Jacobson’s concerns but the issue of what to do about potential casinos and racetracks in western Nebraska was brought up in committee.

“If we start doing something different for western Nebraska, we are going to have to think of doing something different for [other counties] … we are going to have to listen to everybody,” Briese said. “We didn’t close anybody off. We are going to make them wait pending this study… by the commission.”

Briese said the study could take three months, but it is going to be done no later than January 1, 2025.

“Hopefully, it will be done sooner than that,” he added.

A spokesman for Briese said the measure could be taken up again by the legislature on Monday (April 11) or Wednesday (April 13).

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