Kentucky Chairman of the House Licensing and Occupations Committee Adam Koenig, an eight-term incumbent, lost his 16-year seat in the primary election to first-time candidate Steve Doan in May.
Koenig was one of the more vocal advocates of Kentucky sports betting.
In fact, he sponsored HB606, which called to “legalize, regulate and tax sports wagering in Kentucky.” In March, HB606 passed in the House by a 58-30 vote, marking a breakthrough as the closest Kentucky has ever come to sports betting.
However, that’s as close as Kentucky would get to legalized sports wagering. HB606 did not come up for a formal vote in the committee or on the Senate floor because it did not have enough support from senators. The bill officially died in the Senate in April during the final days of the legislative session.
Kentucky Senate Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer explained to BetKentucky his initial shock the legislation made it as far as it did, saying, “I really didn’t think it had a chance this session coming on the heels of our really difficult, but important, vote last year on historical racing. To his credit, Representative Koenig got it out of the House by a really good margin with a lot of Republican votes.”
Thayer left the legislative session in April in high spirits when it comes to sports betting, viewing the bill as a success despite its ultimate failure, saying, “we definitely moved the ball down the field and got it into the red zone... if you get it into the red zone and keep trying to score, eventually we’ll get the win.”
He was adamant about Koenig coming back in January 2023 with another bill to rewrite the state's gambling history. But after the primaries in May, it seems that red zone drive has stalled.
A Ready and Willing Sports Betting Market
The sports betting appetite in Kentucky is evident despite having no professional franchises in the four major sports leagues (NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL).
The state has two of the Top-5 richest college basketball programs in the nation (University of Louisville, University of Kentucky), six Division I college football programs, Louisville City FC (USL) and a total of eight men’s college basketball programs.
Northern Kentucky residents are also just a stone’s throw away from the Cincinnati Reds, Cincinnati Bengals and FC Cincinnati (MLS).
There are plenty of ready and waiting customers, too.
The Kentucky Chamber of Commerce released data from GeoComply showing that state residents made over 530,000 attempts to bet on sports in March, with 85% trying to access local sportsbooks in Kentucky’s bordering states.
The data also showed over 40,000 sportsbook player accounts in the state, which can only be accessed if the bettor travels to a state with legalized sports betting.
That remains a Kentucky resident’s only path to betting on sports.
Luckily, there are options close to home, with five of Kentucky’s seven border states having legalized sports betting (Illinois, Indiana, West Virginia, Tennessee and Virginia), with Ohio set to go live on January 1, 2023.
‘That’s Money That Was Lost’
“That’s money that was lost. It could’ve been right here in the state. Obviously, basketball is huge here, especially during the NCAA tournament,” said John Clay, sports columnist for the Lexington Herald-Leader.
“Another example is the Super Bowl. Northern Kentucky is so close to Cincinnati, so there’s obviously a lot of Bengals fans there. You saw an uptick in Indiana there, right by the Ohio border with Bengals fans there. To me, it’s just a lost opportunity for Kentucky to get more revenue, more tax revenue.”
Sports betting continues to be a tough sell in southern states. On top of Kentucky’s shortcomings, sports betting is still prohibited in Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina, while Mississippi only offers patrons in-person sports wagering at its retail sportsbooks.
Without one of its biggest advocates, sports betting in Kentucky has a longer journey ahead to legalization as more and more states join the sports wagering arms race and others are left in the dust.
Not to mention, the potential new sports betting bills would face longer odds in 2023 with a shortened legislative session (odd years in the legislature have 30-day sessions) and require a higher percentage of the majority to pass bills.