Sen. Damon Thayer: Kentucky Sports Betting By NFL Kickoff?

Sen. Damon Thayer: Kentucky Sports Betting By NFL Kickoff?
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It’s been less than a week since Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear signed HB-551 into law, allowing the Bluegrass State to join the more than 30 others that have sports betting on the books.  

Under HB-551, each of the state’s nine horse racing tracks will have the ability to partner with up to three Kentucky mobile sportsbooks apiece, in addition to offering retail wagering at their facilities.  

Senator Damon Thayer answers some of's burning questions surrounding Kentucky sports betting.

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Kentucky Senator Damon Thayer: Kentucky Sports Betting Answers sat down with Kentucky Senate Majority Leader, Sen. Damon Thayer, to discuss the rollout of sports betting in the state and when Kentuckians can expect to wager on sports legally.  

Below is a transcript of that conversation, edited for brevity and clarity:  

Q: Obviously, it’s been a couple of weeks since HB-551 passed the Senate, legalizing Kentucky sports betting. Looking back now, what does it mean to you as the Senate majority leader to get this thing across the finish line?

A: It was a huge accomplishment, and a really, really impressive team effort. We didn't have the votes [to pass HB-551] that morning. We were two votes short. And then Sen. Julie Adams, who's been my partner in the Senate for five years trying to pass sports betting, and I met with President of the Senate, Robert Stivers. And he told us that he was going to vote yes. And at that point, we only needed one more vote. But I knew once President Stivers announced it to the caucus, that we had a really good chance to get where we needed to be. And indeed, we ended up at 25 ‘yes’ votes, which was two more than was required. It was a great day, really one of the most memorable days in my legislative career. And I've been in the Senate over 20 years now. So, there's a lot of a lot of water over the dams and this was one of the most memorable for sure.

My constituents appear to be very happy, because everywhere I go, I'm thanked for getting sports betting passed. I’ve rarely seen an issue that so many people were focused on. I felt it in the years that it failed to pass. And I feel it now that it has passed. It's just really incredible. So many people were paying attention to this. It probably got a lot of people focused on the General Assembly that hadn't focused on issues before. And that's certainly a good thing.

Q: You mentioned the fact you guys didn't have the 23 votes you needed to get this thing across on the last day of the session. What do you think changed, and how do you think you were able to get HB-551 across the finish line?

A: I just think that we worked on a foundation laid by my good friend, former Representative Adam Koenig. And he was the face and voice of the issue for several years. And got it passed the House last year and really laid a lot of good groundwork. And then the issue was taken over by Representative Michael Meredith, who was an excellent bill sponsor, and was able to answer a lot of questions in a really intelligent manner. It was clear that he picked up the baton from Rep. Koenig and knew the subject matter really well. And I just think that popular opinion was so much in favor of this, that I just think it finally pushed it over the top.

Q: Do you have any sense of the timeline of when Kentucky sports betting could launch? Will it be the first quarter of 2024 or sometime before or during the upcoming NFL season?

A: I have actually spoken with Jonathan Rabinowitz, who's the chairman of the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission. And we spoke about the desire on the part of the public to have something ready to go by football season. And, of course, the sports betting doesn't officially become legal until June 29. And then there's a six-month period in the bill that allows the racing commission time to get the regulations up and going. That doesn't mean I have to take the whole six months.

And Chairman Rabinowitz indicated to me that he's going to try to get at least the brick-and-mortar locations up and running by football season.
That doesn't mean it's going to happen. That's a pretty aggressive launch. But he thinks that there's a chance that the racetracks could have their locations running by this fall. But that the online options might take a little bit longer.

Q: And how important is it in your opinion to get Kentucky sports betting in place, even if it’s retail-only, in time for the 2023 NFL season?

A: It's important, but it's not the end of the world if we don't get it up and running. Because it's going to be here for the future. If we miss another football season, it's not the end of the world.

I understand people want [sports betting] in Kentucky. That's why we passed the bill. I want the racing commission, the racetracks and the online providers to make sure that we have a seamless launch with no problems. And if it takes a little longer, well, that's just the way it's going to be.
Obviously, I've encouraged them to have something ready by football season. That's what the public wants. But we also want to make sure that we launch this thing without any glitches, and that we have it secured and protected. So that the integrity of everyone's wager is secure.

Q: What have you heard from your constituents since you guys passed HB-551? Has it been as positive as you expected?

A: Everywhere I go, whether it's the gym, or the grocery store or the bank, people are saying to me and given us a lot of good ‘attaboys’ for a job well done.

And I think it gives people a level of confidence that the General Assembly worked hard. We had a lot of big issues this session (sports betting included) and it's good to know that people recognize that we really worked hard and did a lot of good work on their behalf.

Q: What would your parting shot be to our readers about the Senate’s ability to get Kentucky sports betting across the finish line?

A: I think it just goes to show you that people can make a difference. My feeling is there were tens of thousands of Kentucky that maybe never advocated for a bill who really engaged their legislators, and their message was heard.

And I would just ask for patience. We'd love to have it up and running by football season. But if that's not the case, it's because it's not ready to go.
We’ve got a very tight window between now and the fall. And I'm looking forward to people being able to go to our racetracks and get exposed to horse racing. Maybe a lot of sports bettors haven't been to a racetrack, get to see what our other legalized form of wagering is all about. And I think this is going to be great. I think it's going to be great for Kentucky and the good news is we've got 37 other jurisdictions that did it before us, and we can learn from them and hopefully launch a great product that people will be proud of.

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Christopher Boan is a staff writer for He has covered sports and sports betting for more than seven years and has worked for publications such as, the Tucson Weekly and the Green Valley News.

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