How Kentucky Sports Betting Factors Into Gov. Andy Beshear’s Re-Election Campaign

How Kentucky Sports Betting Factors Into Gov. Andy Beshear’s Re-Election Campaign
Fact Checked by Nate Hamilton

Recently, Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear was asked what his first bet would be when Kentucky sportsbooks finally open across the state Sept. 7.

Beshear didn’t tip his hand to reporters then, but he did say he would be proud to make the first bet in the state when the day arrives.

The way I see it, he’s already placed a bet, and it could be a big one.

House Bill 551, which Beshear signed into law in late March, gave the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission 180 days after the law took effect in June to have a regulatory framework in place that would allow operators to take bets at brick-and-mortar sportsbooks and through online Kentucky sports betting apps.

However, a few Frankfort insiders told me in April they expected the governor to want sports betting ready for the NFL season. It wasn’t just because Beshear wanted sportsbooks open for what is usually their peak season.

By having sportsbooks open by then, Beshear, who is running for re-election, would look to parlay that achievement to boost his chances to win in November.

How We Got Here

To explain, let’s go back four years. In 2019, Beshear, a Democrat, was Kentucky’s attorney general and his party’s nominee for that year’s gubernatorial election against Republican incumbent Gov. Matt Bevin.

Legal sports betting nationwide was just a year old, and several states surrounding Kentucky were jumping on board. West Virginia already passed a law, and Illinois, Indiana and Tennessee quickly followed. Indiana’s sportsbooks began to open in early September.

Beshear made legalizing sports betting and casino gaming a key part of his platform, while Bevin strongly opposed any form of it. In short, Beshear’s platform helped him win the election by a little more than 5,000 votes out of 1.4 million ballots in a state that’s become a Republican stronghold. To be fair, Beshear’s name recognition — his father was a two-term governor before Bevin — also helped his case.

So, here we are four years later. By all accounts, Beshear is a popular governor in the state, with approval ratings exceeding 60%. But, Republican Daniel Cameron, the state’s current attorney general, stands between him and four more years in office, and the G.O.P has prioritized defeating Beshear. With both campaigns and their supporters planning to spend millions of dollars leading up to the Nov. 7 election, political commercials may outnumber those for sportsbooks on Kentucky airwaves in the coming weeks.

Just like 2019, it’s expected to be a close race. So Beshear will seek to capitalize as much as he can on sports betting to help him hold off Cameron. He’s already doing it through his messaging on social media and in other remarks.

The question is: Will those who voted for Beshear four years ago solely because of sports betting stay with him this year?

Sports Betting Also A Victory For Kentucky Republicans

Sports betting can be a double-edged sword for the Beshear campaign for a couple reasons.

First, HB 551 passed in legislative chambers where Republicans control 80% of the seats and the relationship between Beshear and G.O.P. legislative leaders isn't the best. Democratic votes certainly helped put the measure over the top, but it’s right to give Republicans credit for sports betting coming to the state. It wouldn’t have happened without their support.

Before 2022, some Kentucky Republican legislators opposed sports betting because they didn’t want to give the governor a victory. That mindset started to change last year after polling found a majority of G.O.P. voters wanted it legalized. A sports betting bill passed the House for the first time shortly after that, and while it didn’t get a vote in the Senate, supporters were only a couple votes away there.

This year’s bill needed 60% majorities in both chambers for passage. State Rep. Michael Meredith, R-Oakland, was the lead sponsor on HB 551 and was credited with helping bring more House Republicans on board for this year’s bill. Senate Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, and Majority Caucus Chair Julie Raque Adams, R-Louisville, both long-time sports betting supporters, secured those votes in the Senate this year.

It’ll be interesting to see how Cameron treats sports betting and other gaming issues (more on that at maybe another time) on the campaign trail. There were more than a few Kentucky Republicans, as well as Independents, who voted for Beshear last time because of gaming. Now that it’s settled law, can he keep them?

Expedited Launch A Calculated Risk

Second, it’s Beshear who sped up the timeline. One can argue that he could have easily campaigned on sports betting and still given the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission more time to roll out sports betting regulations and approve applications from the racetracks and operators.

Even some operators have said they were caught off guard by the September launch date. Last week, DraftKings CFO Jason Park told investment analysts that the Sept. 28 launch date for the Kentucky DraftKings sportsbook was "sooner than we previously anticipated."

While a late December launch would have missed all but a couple of weeks of the NFL’s regular season, it most likely could have been timed to coincide with the annual basketball game between the University of Kentucky and the University of Louisville that typically occurs between Christmas and New Year’s Day (CBS Sports college basketball insider Jon Rothstein reports this year's game will be played on Dec. 21, though neither school has the game listed on their schedules yet.). Heck, it could have even been set to coincide with the schools’ football game held on Thanksgiving weekend. Either of those would have been a tremendous way to launch sports betting in the Bluegrass State.

Now, operators want to launch as quickly as possible and capitalize on as much of the football season as they can, and a few states have rolled out sports betting in shorter timeframes. (For example, in Indiana, the governor signed the bill in early May 2019, the law took effect that July, and sportsbooks began opening two months later). So, while some in the gaming industry might look at Kentucky with a raised eyebrow regarding its timeframe, it’s not completely without precedent.

I don’t expect many — if any — hiccups for the launch of Kentucky sports betting, but if anything goes wrong, that would be on the governor’s watch and right before the election.

Beshear is betting it’ll go smoothly. We’ll see if it pays off.

Follow for all of the latest Kentucky sportsbook promos as soon as they are available.



Steve is an accomplished, award-winning reporter with more than 20 years of experience covering gaming, sports, politics and business. He has written for the Associated Press, Reuters, The Louisville Courier Journal, The Center Square and numerous other publications. Based in Louisville, Ky., Steve has covered the expansion of sports betting in the U.S. and other gaming matters.

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