There Remains Moral Opposition to the Legalization of Kentucky Sports Betting

Dan Favale
By , Updated on: Feb 12, 2024 07:00 PM
There Remains Moral Opposition to the Legalization of Kentucky Sports Betting

The legalization of Kentucky sports betting in March 2023 was generally met with widespread approval. One year, though, the market still has more than its fair share of detractors. 

To be sure, this isn’t unique to sports betting in Kentucky. The legalization of gambling is met with skepticism, concern and outright opposition everywhere. Even in markets where it has been up and running for a while, there’s no such thing as universal approval.

Most forms of opposition take one of four stances: They believe sports betting is immoral; they are concerned about predatory promotional practices and the uptick in problem gambling it causes; they don’t see a viable way for federally recognized tribes and online sportsbooks in the United States to effectively coexist; or they simply think there’s not enough of a demand among voters or inside the House and Senate to approve it. (The latter, obviously, is specific to states that don’t yet have legal sports betting.)

In the case of Kentucky sports betting, the opposition most focused upon these days is inextricably tied to the morality of gambling. More specifically, the state is grappling with the belief amongst influential pastors that sports betting is unethical.

Polls Show that Majority of Pastors Believe Kentucky Sports Betting is Morally Wrong

Lifeway Research, a business services for churches based out of Nashville, Tennessee, conducted a study that found an overwhelming majority of pastors oppose sports betting on the back of morality concerns. Here’s Aaron Earls with more for Kentucky Today:

“Despite its legalization across many states, U.S. Protestant pastors remain opposed to sports gambling, but they’re not doing much about it, according to a Lifeway Research study. Few pastors (13%) favor legalizing sports betting nationwide and most (55%) say the practice is morally wrong...A majority of pastors (55%) believe betting on sports is morally wrong, including 33% who strongly agree. Around a third (35%) disagree, while 10% aren’t sure. Evangelical pastors (62%) are more likely than mainline pastors (50%) to see sports gambling as morally wrong. Baptist (65%) and non-denominational pastors (63%) are more likely than those at Lutheran (42%) or Presbyterian/Reformed churches (46%) to agree it is wrong. While there is some difference of opinion over the morality of sports betting, almost all pastors agree on what the legal status should be. Few (13%) agree sports betting should be legalized across the country, including 2% who strongly agree. Three in 4 pastors (75%) oppose nationwide legalization, and 13% aren’t sure.”

These sentiments did not stop the legalization of sports betting throughout Kentucky—or across the majority of the USA. They can also change over time, as various churches become more accustomed to the practice and states take steps to better regulate it.

Will Churches Ever Change Their Stance on Legal Sports Gambling?

Still, as Earls noted, the results from this 2024 study are eerily similar to the returns from a poll conducted 2018, when the Supreme Court of the United States first overturned the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act. So, it doesn’t seem as if the clergy’s opinion of legal gambling has shifted all that much.

Truthfully, more time could need to pass. It has barely been a half-decade since the Supreme Court overturned PAPSA. And while most of the United States has legalized sports betting in that time, it remains a relatively new practice. In fact, it took quite some time before states began legalizing sports betting in higher-volume groups.

Beyond that, the study also shows, according to Earls, that younger figureheads in the church are more likely to hold a favorable or indifferent view of sports betting in Kentucky. Plus, geographical location has a lot to do with it. As he wrote:

“Younger pastors, those aged 18-44, are the most likely to support making sports betting legal across the U.S. (20%) and the least likely to oppose those efforts (64%). White pastors (76%) are more likely to oppose legalization than Black pastors (63%). Pastors in the South (78%) and Midwest (75%) are also more likely to disagree with legalizing sports gambling nationwide than those in the West (64%).”

This data seems to jibe with the overall political landscape. States in the south tend to skew more conservative, as do people over the age of 44. There’s a chance this data meaningfully shifts in the coming years, as younger pastors and church figureheads enter different age brackets.

Does Religious Opposition Mean Anything Substantial for Kentucky Sports Betting?

While we shouldn’t just dismiss concerns related to Kentucky legal sports betting, the opposition from churches most likely won’t do anything to change The Bluegrass State’s mode of operation.

Remember: Kentucky legalized horse race betting long before they greenlit general sports wagering. That industry faced opposition, as well. And yet, it never went anywhere. It only expanded.

As Earls also noted, the church’s opposition to sports gambling throughout Kentucky is more tacit than they are active. Clergy members apparently don’t believe it’s their place to spearhead more functional opposition. They have their belief system, they preach it to their congregation, but they’re not in the business of changing minds—let alone laws.

Granted, more active opposition still probably wouldn’t mean anything to the Kentucky sports betting industry. The state is already generating additional revenue. And that’s the entire point of sports wagering from their perspective.

Not only that, but the legalization of sports betting is reportedly helping Kentucky’s race tracks. That’s a pretty big deal. Horse racing is less popular than ever. People would rather bet on sports with mobile sites than visit a track. But the creation of retail sportsbooks has led to increased foot traffic at race tracks. 

Couple this with tax revenue that will likely clear seven figures per year, and it’s hard to see the makeup of the Kentucky sports betting scene giving in to any outside pressure or antithetical views.

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Meet the author

Dan Favale

Dan Favale leverages over 12 years of sports journalism expertise in his role as New York staff writer. He provides in-depth analysis across the NBA, NFL, MLB, NHL, tennis, NASCAR, college basketball, and sports betting. Dan co-hosts the popular Hardwood Knocks NBA podc...

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