With a bipartisan group of lawmakers flanking him, Kentucky State Rep. Adam Koenig, R-Erlanger, unveiled a slate of gaming-related bills filed in the House this week.
The bills include reforms to taxes and payouts on pari-mutuel wagers, regulations on so-called “gray machines,” and comprehensive funding for problem gambling services. However, the highest-profile bill, House Bill 606, would legalize sports betting across the state. State Rep. Al Gentry, D-Louisville, also sponsors the bill.
Koenig, who chairs the House Licensing, Occupations and Administrative Regulations Committee, has filed bills to legalize sports betting before. His committee even unanimously passed the bill in 2020, but it never received a vote on the floor.
The primary issue has been sufficient support among Republican lawmakers. With the GOP holding 75 of the 100 seats in the House, Koenig said at a press conference Monday it would take likely take yes votes from 38 Republicans to get the measure through – that’s even if most of the 25 Democrats are on board.
Last month, Kentucky Sports Betting Now commissioned a survey that showed nearly two-thirds of registered voters polled supported legalized sports betting. That included majorities in various Republican categories.
Sports betting is currently legal in 33 states plus the District of Columbia. That includes every state surrounding Kentucky except Missouri – where legislators there are also considering legalization. Koenig said that shows that it’s neither a Democratic nor Republican issue.
“It goes both ways,” he said. “And for those states that have legalized it, especially the Republican states… People like to talk about freedom. Well, this is freedom. This is government getting out of the way of allowing adults to make adult decisions.”
The bill would allow Kentucky’s racetracks to get a license that would be good for a sportsbook at the track and a mobile app that could be used statewide. While most states restrict sports betting to adults 21 and older, Kentucky would be one of the few states allowing 18-year-olds to wager. That’s the same age limit for adults to bet on horse races and buy a lottery ticket.
The sports betting bill also includes language to legalize fantasy sports and online poker.
Some opponents of the bill, including the Family Foundation of Kentucky, claim the state can only expand gaming by offering a constitutional amendment to the voters. However, Koenig said that the authors of the state Constitution made it clear that only games of chance, such as slot machines, would need voter approval. Sports betting, he said, is considered a game of skill.
Koenig and Gentry also sponsored House Bill 609, a bill that would earmark $225 million the state received from the PokerStars settlement last year to fund services to help those with gambling problems. Koenig said if the funding is managed properly, it could handle Kentucky’s needs for centuries.
“If not in perpetuity,” he added.
Brianne Doura Schawohl, a leading consultant on problem gambling services, said on Twitter that all U.S. states spent just $76 million on the mental health issue in 2016.
In a statement to The Center Square, she said she was excited to see Kentucky finally move forward as it currently does not provide any funding for providing treatment to those with gambling addictions or other problem gambling issues.
There are about 30,000 Kentuckians that deal with gambling addiction, she said. That number will only grow as gaming expands in the state.
“If this bill were to pass and become law, it would be the single largest funded problem gambling program in the nation,” she added. “I would hope that the funding would be used for research, prevention, treatment and recovery that not only helps Kentucky but provides vital information and best practices for the entire nation, to help address this important public health issue.”
While the one-time funding is certainly significant, she said she would like to see a funding stream added that uses funds from other gaming streams – such as horse racing, the state lottery and historical horse racing machines – to bolster the fund.
In addition to the four bills on individual topics, Koenig also filed House Bill 610, which serves as an omnibus bill that includes language for all gaming bills.
It’s uncertain if any of these bills will make it through the legislature this year. Expanded gaming, including sports betting, was a major platform issue for Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear, and some Republicans may be wary of giving him a political victory as he seeks re-election next year.
Tuesday was the final day for House lawmakers to file new bills. Lawmakers will continue to meet in Frankfort through March 30 and then return on April 13 for a two-day session to consider overriding any vetoes issued by Beshear.
This article was originally posted on Koenig files bills to legalize sports betting, fund problem gaming services in Kentucky