A bill to legalize sports betting in Kentucky, along with one measure banning grey-market machines, slots-like games that can be found in stores and bars state-wide, failed to pass during the final day of the General Assembly.
After the House passed House Bill 606 with bipartisan support last month, Senate Republicans debated the issue amongst their members for several weeks but were unable to bring the bill to the floor for a vote Thursday (April 14) night before adjourning until next year.
“I’m for sports betting,” Senate Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer, a Republican, said. “I think it is a natural extension of our history and tradition of betting on horses in Kentucky.”
Thayer expressed his frustration over the inability to pass a sports betting bill but did not elaborate on the reasons why some members of the Republican caucus are against legalizing and regulating wagering on games.
“I think you should ask them,” Thayer told reporters on the Senate floor. “I’ll be honest, I’m tired of being the spokesperson for people who aren’t for sports betting. Ask them."
“I’m no longer going to give the reasons,” Thayer added. “Find some of the people who are against sports betting and ask them.”
The bill, authored by Republican state Representative Adam Koenig, also would have legalized online poker and daily fantasy sports, with tax revenues directed toward the state’s pension funds. Koenig estimated sports betting would raise $25m to $40m in tax revenues annually.
In a series of tweets Friday (April 15), Koenig said it has been a four-year fight for him and he was not giving up on trying to get a bill passed in the legislature.
“This was not defeat,” Koenig said. “We got it as far as it has ever gotten. I wish this race was a sprint, but it’s a marathon. Success is coming, just not as fast as we would hope. But it is coming.”
Koenig said he understood that “many are mad at the Senate” for failing to pass sports betting.
“Don’t be,” Koenig said. “It took me four years to get this bill through the House. The Senate had the bill in its possession for four weeks. Sometimes these things take time. Trust me, I’m as frustrated as anyone. I won’t stop fighting.”
Grey-Market Ban Bill Dies In House
Lawmakers in the House on Thursday held up a bill to ban so-called “grey-market” machines that resemble slot machines but are unregulated and are considered illegal in Kentucky.
House Bill 608, authored by Republican Killian Timoney, would have required the Kentucky State Police to establish a task force dedicated to the removal of gambling devices not authorized by law, as well as instruct the Justice and Public Safety Cabinet to establish administrative regulations and reporting requirements.
The measure cleared the Senate on Wednesday with a 24-13 vote after lawmakers approved an amendment to the bill on the Senate floor.
The amendment, which was sponsored by Republican Senator Whitney Westerfield, changed some of the bill’s language out of concern that it could have expanded the definition of gambling in the state.
Koenig, who supports banning grey-market machines, warned that not passing Timoney’s bill will result in the “continued proliferation of these machines and an expansion of gaming like Kentucky has never seen before.”
“It strengthens laws to go after these machines that are showing up in restaurants, bars, gas stations and other places,” Koenig said. “They operate in a ‘grey’ are of the law, and do not follow the same requirements” as the state’s historic horseracing machines.
Critics of the bill said the machines provide much-needed income for mom-and-pop stores.
Republican Senator Paul Hornback said some operators of locally owned stores depend on the extra money to help keep their doors open. Those who have the machines want them to be taxed and regulated, he said.
“In rural Kentucky, it makes a huge difference,” Hornback said.
Senator Phillip Wheeler, a Republican, agreed that although he is not personally a fan of using the machines, the income they generate helps business owners. Wheeler said the machines could be “brought into the fold” in time, and he urged lawmakers to step back and consider the issue more.
“To ban them outright is overkill,” he said.
Lawmakers will return to the state capital in Frankfort in January for the 2023 session, unless Governor Andy Beshear, a Democrat, decides to call them into special session.