State Senator Damon Thayer Believe Kentucky Sports Betting Has Shot at Legalization in 2023

Dan Favale
By , Updated on: Nov 27, 2022 07:00 PM
State Senator Damon Thayer Believe Kentucky Sports Betting Has Shot at Legalization in 2023

Could there be legal sports betting in Kentucky as early as 2023? State Senator Damon Thayer sure thinks so. But is his optimism overambitious? Could it even be misplaced? Or, after years of trying, will Kentucky sports betting finally have its day in the sun?

These are, quite literally, questions that could be worth millions of dollars per year to the state. Indeed, Kentucky isn't one of the larger professional sports gambling markets in the traditional sense. But betting for the Kentucky Derby is a highly lucrative venture 0n its own. If you add legal on-site and online general sports wagering to the equation, the state stands to rake in millions of dollars each year if they set their tax rate at around 10 to 12 percent or higher.

Granted, we're getting ahead of the conversation. Kentucky sports betting needs to be legalized before the state can start capitalizing on it. And while many were unsure of the timeline to do so, Senator Thayer's most recent comments have left the gambling industry buzzing.

Here's How Kentucky Sports Betting Can Be Legalized in 2023

If you're like us, you might be thinking: "Wait, Kentucky can legalize sports betting in an odd numbered year?!" It turns out they can. Though issues such as sports betting are typically tackled during even-numbered years, Senator Thayer said it's possible to move up the timeline. The threshold for approval is merely higher.

"It can pass in an odd-numbered year," he told NBC News in Lexington (LEX 18), "but if it has a tax rate, it'll have to pass with a higher threshold of votes." 

This is good news. It's also complicated news.

Garnering a larger majority of support for sports betting in Kentucky could prove difficult. Representative Adam Koenig was previously known as the state's driving force behind the legal sports betting movement. But he ended up losing his primary election this past spring. Chatter on this subject has been rather feeble since then.

It sounds like Mr. Thayer, who is also the Senate Majority Floor Leader, will try to rekindle the interest and momentum built up by Koenig. "I'm going to continue to advocate for it," he explained to LEX 18. "I think it's a natural extension of pari-mutuel betting on horses, which we've had here for generations. And we're a sports-crazy state. A sports-crazy state."

Does Senator Thayer Have Enough Votes to Legalize Sports Betting in Kentucky?

Everything Senator Thayer lays out will be music to the ears of sports betting enthusiasts. But he alone isn't responsible for legalization. Kentucky will invariably need bi-partisan support to get a sports betting initiative through the House and Senate and onto a ballot. And it isn't yet clear whether this issue has gained that type of traction just yet.

Oftentimes, Kentucky sports betting has been neutralized by the Republican party. Members either haven't supported the idea altogether, or they've favored more restrictive approaches that derailed other proposals. Theoretically, this won't be any less of a problem entering 2023. Republicans still make up the vast majority of Kentucky decision-makers.

Until now, in fact, most assumed any sports betting legislation in Kentucky would be shot down over the next couple of years. Senator Thayer, however, feels differently.

"We have six new members coming into the Republican caucus, and I think some of the new members who are supporters of sports betting are replacing members who are not," he told LEX 18. "So, it's possible that we could be closer to having the votes to pass it."

Please notice this falls short of a guarantee. Senator Thayer seems genuinely unsure of whether Kentucky has the majority support it needs to legalize sports betting. Still, this brand of uncertainty beats the air of hopelessness that started permeating the discussion in the spring.

The Argument Against Sports Betting in Kentucky

Incumbent officials who oppose sports betting throughout Kentucky have double-downed on their stance in light of Thayer's comments. Their explanations are the same as ever. Mostly, they are twofold.

First, they argue that gambling is unconstitutional. That's not really a strong leg to stand on anymore. This opinion actually gets weaker every year. Kentucky already has provisions that allow certain forms of betting on horse races. Why are other sports unconstitutional, but horse racing isn't? This argument instead reeks of archaic thinking. Certain lawmakers don't like the idea of amending state constitutions, even though many of them were ratified in the late 1800s.

Opponents of sports betting also claim that the gambling industry can be predatory. This argument is much stronger. Advertising practices can be targeted toward lower-income neighborhoods. And while there is no panacea to this issue, Kentucky can implement policies that restrict how much—and where—sports betting companies operate and advertise.

That last sticking point might be Kentucky's biggest obstacle to sports betting. And to be honest, it's a fair one. But as Senator Thayer also noted to LEX 18, Kentucky sports betting is already happening. Residents have gambled out of state and even online. At this very moment, Kentucky-ians can sign up with one of the sites that appear in our reviews of the top online sportsbooks.

As we mention all the time around these parts: Prohibiting sports betting doesn't actually stop it. If anything, refusing to legalize it so the state can police it is a societal failure. But will the increasing popularity of sports betting and fresh faces in the Republican Caucus change anything for Kentucky? We'll find out next year.

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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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