Kentucky Sports Betting is Already Starting to Expand

Dan Favale
By , Updated on: Nov 29, 2023 12:00 AM
The expansion of Kentucky sports betting is already underway.

Kentucky sports betting only went live on September 28, but it’s already undergoing expansion.

To be sure, the state’s gaming laws and structure are not undergoing massive overhauls. It’s way too early to even entertain monumental shifts. The state hasn’t even had legal sports gambling (beyond horse and dog racing) for three months at this writing. 

And yet, sports betting in Kentucky is going to increase the optionality at the disposal of residents in The Bluegrass State

What are these changes? Will they have a significant impact on sports gambling in Kentucky? How has the state’s sports betting launch even fared so far? These are important questions. And we’re here to provide some answers.

Kentucky Sports Betting is Increasing the Number of Wager Types Available to Gamblers

When Kentucky sports betting first launched, the catalog of available competitions included the following: NFL, MLB, NHL, NBA, WNBA, NCAA baseball, NCAA softball, NCAA basketball, NCAA football, NCAA hockey, XFL, USFL, CFL, LIV Golf, eSports, Japan Nippon Professional Baseball, FIBA basketball events, cycling, boxing, motorsports, Netball, Sailing (The Americas Cup), X Games, winter and summer Olympics, Major League Eating events and Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating contest. 

That is, as you can tell, a pretty extensive sports betting menu. However, there were some noticeable absences from the list. Mainly, Kentucky sports betting options didn’t seem to address various tennis betting, Formula 1 betting and MMA betting. Well, as it turns out, that’s all changed. The Kentucky Horse Racing Commission Sports Wagering Advisory Council proposed adding the above events, among others, to the state’s sports betting catalog. As Dave Bonderoff wrote for Sports Betting Review:

It's expected that the launch of the best sports betting apps in Kentucky will feature a few new sports on the menu. The additions would largely fall in line with other states that offer both retail and mobile sports betting.The new sports include: Formula 1 racing, National Rugby League of Australia and New Zealand, Professional Fighters League (PFL) and Bellator mixed martial arts and the UTR Pro Tennis Tour.”

Also included on the list of new offerings: Athletes Unlimited basketball, lacrosse, softball and volleyball. These changes have been made official, according to Legal Sports Report. All of these events should now be available to bet on with online sportsbooks in the United States as well as retail locations operating in the market.

Can You Bet on Horse Racing Using Kentucky Online Sports Betting Apps?

Both horse racing and dog racing are hallmark parts of Kentucky’s betting market. They were legal long before Kentucky online sports betting went live. With that said, you are not able to wager on these events using any Kentucky online sports betting app

In an effort to preserve the business model of racetracks, The Bluegrass State does not allow operators to offer odds on horse racing and dog racing. These wagers must be placed at the tracks themselves, or with a sports betting application sponsored by the tracks. 

This could change down the line. Kentucky online sports betting has been wildly popular since its launch. So much so, in fact, that it might eat into the revenue of on-site tracks anyway. 

The challenge will be figuring out a way to make every stakeholder work in harmony. That likely means apportioning some of the proceeds from online horse racing bets to the tracks themselves. 

Still, even though Kentucky is clearly open to shaking things up, such a move feels a ways off.

Kentucky Approves the Launch of ESPN Bet Mobile Application

ESPN Bet launched across 17 states this past November. Kentucky was among the locations in which it debuted. At the time, though, the state only granted a temporary license to ESPN Bet. Much like the Massachusetts Gaming Commission, the KHRC wanted to further review their model. 

Penn Entertainment is the company operating ESPN Bet. They are transitioning the ESPN Bet app from the Barstool Sportsbook App. This move has yet to be disallowed by any state, but it has drawn scrutiny for Barstool’s previous practices. Some states, including Kentucky, have also been concerned about how Penn Entertainment would differentiate ESPN Bet from the Disney-owned ESPN itself. 

This concern didn’t preclude ESPN Bet from launching in Kentucky. But it did put the acquisition of a permanent Kentucky sports betting license in question. That’s all over now, though. 

KHRC Executive Director Jamie Eads allowed Penn to rebrand its sportsbook to ESPN Bet with temporary approval,” Pat Evans of Legal Sports Report wrote. “The change came November 14, when Penn switched its platform branding from Barstool Sportsbook to ESPN Bet. The KHRC advisory council unanimously approved the permanent switch.”

Now that ESPN Bet has the stamp of approval, it’ll be interesting to see whether they can bag a good chunk of the Kentucky sports betting market share. Online sportsbooks in Kentucky accounted for roughly 93.7 percent of the opening month’s sports betting handle. Most of that money was funneled through DraftKings, FanDuel and BetMGM. 

If ESPN Bet is going to become a force, it’ll need to compete with the aforementioned operators. That has proven to be a challenge for other sportsbooks—including Penn Entertainment’s Barstool version. Stakeholders are banking on the ESPN branding making a difference. Time will tell whether they’re correct.

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Meet the author

Dan Favale

Dan first began writing about sports back in 2011. At the time, his expertise lied in the NBA and NFL. More than one decade, that remains the case. But he's also expanded his catalog to include extensive knowledge and analysis on the NHL, MLB, tennis, NASCAR, college ba...

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