After years of urging action, sports betting is finally going to be legal in Kentucky. We made it happen. Democratic Governor Andy Beshear presided over a festive atmosphere at the State Capitol on Friday as he signed a bill authorizing sports betting in Kentucky into law.
When Thursday’s last day of the 2023 legislative session kicked off, it appeared that HB 551 would meet the same fate as similar legislation that had been introduced in the Kentucky General Assembly for the past three years.
Specifically, it didn’t look like supporters of HB 551 had the 23 votes they needed for the bill to pass the Senate. But as the end of the day (and the session) approached, HB 551 was brought to the Senate floor, and it passed on a 25-12 — with all seven Democrats joining 18 Republicans in support. HB 551 passed the House on a 63-34 vote on March 13.
Kentucky will officially become the 38th US state with some form of sports betting when HB 551 takes effect in June.
What Kentucky’s New Sports Betting Bill Says
HB 551 authorizes the state’s seven horse racetracks and at least two other entities to operate up to three skins for mobile sports betting. Retail sports betting would be taxed at 9.75%, while online wagers would be taxed at 14.25%. The seven horse racetracks are:
- Churchill Downs, in Louisville
- Ellis Park, in Henderson
- Keeneland, in Lexington
- Kentucky Downs, in Franklin
- Oak Grove, in Oak Grove
- The Red Mile, in Lexington
- Turfway Park, in Florence
Revolutionary Racing Kentucky, an eighth horse racetrack currently under construction in Ashland, and Derby City Gaming, a historical horse racing venue on the site of the former Louisville Downs track, are also authorized to offer sports betting under HB 551.
Under HB 551, the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission (KHRC) will serve as the regulator for sports betting.
The House Licensing, Occupations, and Administrative Regulations Committee unanimously backed HB 551 earlier this month but removed verbiage that would have required in-person registration at a retail sportsbook for the first 12 months with legal sports betting.
Online Poker Not Included
For supporters of online poker in Kentucky, watching Friday’s signing ceremony was likely a bittersweet moment.
Former Rep. Adam Koenig (R-Erlanger) led failed efforts to pass online sports betting in the 2020, 2021, and 2022 legislative sessions. Each time, the bills Koenig introduced to legalize sports betting also called for legalizing poker.
But getting skeptical (and conservative) lawmakers in Kentucky to go along with sports betting proved to be a tall order. After Koenig lost his bid for re-election in November, he passed the torch on to Rep. Michael Meredith (R-Oakland), who warned Poker Industry PRO in an exclusive interview in January that he might need to remove poker and fantasy sports from the bill in order to win enough votes for passage.
2023 is the fourth consecutive year that lawmakers tried to get a sports betting bill passed. It was also the first year the bill didn’t include a call to legalize online poker and fantasy sports wagering.
With HB 551 winning passage, Meredith’s instincts appear correct. He did not return a message seeking comment.
Officials Gather for Signing Ceremony
This industry will bring new jobs, tourism, and growth, and I am proud today that I am going to sign this into law. At Friday’s signing ceremony, Beshear said he had held for years that Kentucky should enact sports betting.
“Virtually every state around us, whether they are Democrat- or Republican-led, have passed it,” Beshear said. “We talk about having a competitive business climate, but we were not allowing an important business that every state around us was. But now, after years of urging action, sports betting is finally going to be legal in Kentucky. We made it happen.
“Today’s results show that hard work pays off. Kentuckians will soon be able to place their bets right here in the Commonwealth. And for the first time, those dollars are going to help support rebuilding our bridges, repaving our roads, funding our education system, and improving our communities. We are doing what is right — not just to keep dollars in our state but to keep our red-hot economy on fire. This industry will bring new jobs, tourism, and growth, and I am proud today that I am going to sign this into law.”
Meredith and Koenig were both present for the ceremony. The governor thanked both men and Senate Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer (R-Georgetown) for their efforts. He invited Meredith to the podium, who in turn thanked Beshear and Koenig.
Koenig “carried the water on this for years [and] taught me everything I needed to know about this bill,” Meredith said. Turning to the governor, he added, “Short of the bill you just signed [to legalize medical marijuana], this might be the most bipartisan bill that was passed this session, and it proves what we can do together when we’re willing to come together and work together.”