For the first time, a Kentucky sports betting bill was approved by the state House. But it stalled in the state Senate, not coming up for a vote during the final days of the legislative session in April.
BetKentucky sat down with Senate Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer following the failure of HB606, which would’ve legalized sports wagering in Kentucky.
Thayer, a Republican, gave his support to the bill, but it ultimately didn’t have enough votes.
BetKentucky: Kentucky is not able to get over the hump with sports betting, how difficult was that for you as someone who felt so strongly about it and tied it back into Kentucky’s history?
Damon Thayer: I’ve been advocate for betting sports betting in Kentucky ever since the PASPA decision. 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 horse racing. To his credit, Representative (Adam) Koenig got it out of the House by a really good margin with a lot of Republican votes. Obviously, that put pressure on the Senate along with Sen. Julie Raque Adams from Louisville, I advocated for it. We just couldn’t get the votes.
”It was frustrating, but I’ve been around long enough to know that it takes a couple of sessions for things like this, that are controversial, to eventually pass.”
‘They’re Blaming the Wrong Guy’
BetKentucky: How discouraging was it when Gov. (Andy) Beshear said, “If Damon Thayer wanted sports betting to pass, he’d get it passed.”?
Thayer: Gov. Beshear displaying his absolute failures as a leader with that comment last week. Sports betting is one of the few issues where he and I agree. Instead of reaching out to me to try and help, he blames me for its failure. That’s not helpful. In addition to the fact that he’s flat-out wrong — I don’t have the power to get people to vote yes on something that they’re opposed to philosophically.
That was really disappointing because I’m fighting two fronts. I have people that are opposed to it, who are upset with me that I’m for it. Then you’ve got people like Gov. Beshear and certain talk-radio talking heads who are blaming me for its failure despite the fact that I’m for it. I’ve been in the legislature over 19 years and I’ve seen a lot of very weird situations, but this one takes the cake. I am allied with the sports-betting advocates and they need to tone it down and focus on new members, the people running this year for the first time, to try and convince them.
This angry society we live in, everybody is looking for someone to blame and I guess that’s me. They’re blaming the wrong guy.
‘This Guy Is Not His Father’
BetKentucky: How draining was that trying to explain the side of people who were against it as someone who was for it?
Thayer: Beshear is a political hack. Quote me on that. When his father (Steve Beshear) was governor, we worked together on a handful of issues like pension reform, transportation and expanded gambling. This guy is not his father. Frankly, he’s an impediment to getting sports betting passed because of what he’s said and done on this issue.
BetKentucky: When it comes to HB 608, was the banning of gray machines a hurdle you simply couldn’t clear at the end of the day?
Thayer: I was very much in favor of House Bill 608. Unfortunately, Senator (Whitney) Westerfield attached an amendment in the Senate that basically killed the bill in the House. I knew that the House would not accept any amendments. I tried to explain to Sen. Westerfield and he insisted that his amendment was necessary. He’s obviously an anti-gambling senator and felt like his amendment was needed.
He and I agreed that we need to ban gray games, but he felt he needed that amendment to clarify the original language of House Bill 608. I disagreed, but he got the votes to attach the amendment and that basically killed the bill, which was unfortunate because in the next nine months before we get back in January, the gray games are going to continue to proliferate.
Kentucky Residents Tried to Make Bets
BetKentucky: How did you relay the fact that Kentuckians will still be betting on sports either at a border state or offshore and it was about keeping that money in Kentucky?
Thayer: We used rata data that showed that in a month’s time there were over 500,000 efforts from Kentucky residents to make sports bets that were rejected due to geolocation technology. I said, ‘Would you rather have a bootlegger or a liquor store that’s regulated and taxed?’
BetKentucky: How did you combat the naysayers of sports betting who explain that gambling can become a problem behavior that destroys lives?
Thayer: “I was willing to put a substantial amount of money into the Kentucky Problem Gambling Counsel and I tried to explain that people are gonna gamble, let’s make sure if they make a sports bet with a legal sports-betting entity, they can get paid, where as with an illegal bookmaker they sometimes may not (get paid) and have no recourse.
I respect that there are people who are friends of mine and in my party who are just philosophically opposed to gambling. We’re never gonna change their minds. I do think there are some undecided folks who are not quite there yet, who we might be able to, over time, persuade to support it. I also think as we continue to have elections, I think you’re gonna see more younger people join the legislature who are not opposed to sports betting.
‘It’s Not a Failure’
Thayer: I don’t count this as a failure. It failed to pass this year, but it’s not a failure overall because we definitely moved the ball down the field and got it into the red zone. The opposition has a pretty good defense, but it’s just like in football – if you get it into the red zone and keep trying to score, eventually we’ll get the win.
BetKentucky: I’m sure Koenig will sponsor another sports betting bill during the next session, so where do you go from here?
Thayer: Right now I just want to let the dust settle from a very intense session. We dealt with a lot of really big issues. We’ll see how the elections play out. I’m sure Chairman Koenig will come back with another bill next year and we’ll see how things shake out.