Is sports betting in Kentucky officially on track toward 2023 legalization? If the state's Senate Committee is any indication, it just might be.
The latest Kentucky sports betting bill was brought to the Senate Committee's 10 panel members on Wednesday, March 15. It received an overwhelming stamp of approval, with a 9-1 vote in favor of advancing forward.
What's next for the 2023 Kentucky sports betting bill? Does it have the necessary support to make it on to the 2024 general election ballot? And how will it be received by voters upon getting there? Let's break down the latest.
Next Steps for the 2023 Kentucky Sports Betting Bill
After making it through the Senate Committee, the bill to legalize sports betting in Kentucky will now be placed in front of the entire Senate. Though no official date for a final vote is set, the decision will be made by March 29 or March 30.
In order to make it out of the full Senate, the proposal will need to receive 23 votes in favor of legalization since it's taking place in an odd-numbered year. In other sessions, the bill would only need 20 votes in favor of legalization to get the final go-ahead.
If this Kentucky sports betting bill—known as HB 551—garners the necessary support, it will then appear on the state's 2024 general election ballot. And if voters give it a majority approval rating, sports betting throughout Kentucky will officially be legalized.
Does Kentucky Have the Necessary Senate Support to Legalize the Latest Sports Betting Bill?
Making it past the Senate Committee was the easy part for HB 551. Ditto for its appearance in the House of Representatives, which voted 63-34 in favor of legalization. Getting put in front of the full Senate is the hard part. Members have previously shown a majority resistance to the legalization of sports betting. That sentiment has largely held true during this year's round of debates.
"Expanded gambling preys on poor people," said Todd Gray, the executive director of the Kentucky Baptist Convention, according to NBC affiliate Lex 18 in Kentucky. "It's often the poorest people in our communities that are the most vulnerable to the slick advertisement and the promise that DraftKings will put out—and FanDuel will put out—about get rich quick."
Still, even amid concerns from detractors, certain lawmakers are more optimistic about HB 551's chances. "We are really close to getting the necessary Senate votes to legalize sports betting in KY," John F. Cox from the Kentucky Chambers Public Affairs Department tweeted on March 20. "There are two legislative days (Mar 29-30) to get this thing done. Keep the emails coming & tell your senators to support HB 551!"
The sponsor of HB 551, Representative Michael Meredith, expressed similar thoughts when asked how many more votes Kentucky needs to legalize sports betting. "Probably somewhere in the range of 1 to 3 votes that we need to sure up," per Lex 18. "So, I think we're getting really, really close."
That is, in fact, "really, really" close. But will it be enough?
Details of New Sports Betting Bill Appearing in Kentucky Senate
Unlike previous sports betting bills in Kentucky, HB 551 would legalize online wagering throughout the state. This matter has become a particularly serious focus in the past two years. Another Kentucky sports betting bill introduced during the 2023 legislative sessions, HB 106, did the same.
Kentucky's focus on mobile sports betting is largely in response to market growth. Last year, more than 75 percent of all legal bets in the United States were placed online. That share is expected to climb past 80 to 85 percent in 2023, and it is known to be even higher in midwestern regions where brick-and-mortar sportsbooks are further apart.
Lawmakers are also paying more attention to off-shore wagering trends. Many of the sites from our reviews of the top online sportsbooks already allow Kentucky residents to create an account and place wagers. Not everyone takes advantage of this loophole, but plenty do. And Rep. Meredith is well aware of it.
"There are over a billion dollars bet illegally right now," he said. "And we know there's a significant amount of the marketplace that is just going across the state line, across the river, to place their wagers as well."
Kentucky Residents Clearly 'Want' Legal Sports Betting
In recent months, the idea that Kentucky residents want legal sports betting has become a louder rallying cry among HB 551 supporters. "The people of Kentucky want this,” Senate Majority leader Damon Thayer said. “It’s time that we give them the choice—for free will, God-given free will—to engage in legal sports betting.”
Thayer's closing sentiment may verge on hyperbolic. Very few have invoked "God-given free will" when advocating for legal wagering. At the same time, his overarching point isn't wrong.
A recent poll by Republican pollster Robert Blizzard of Public Opinion Strategies showed that an overwhelming number of Kentuckians support legal sports betting. The exact breakdown is as follows: Republicans favor it with a 58 percent majority; Democrats favor it with a 69 percent majority; and Independents favor it with an 81 percent majority.
Polls require a certain margin for error. But they are seldom so off that returns this decisive would be incorrect. What's more, this poll was conducted by a Republican outlet. And historically, it has been Kentucky Republicans who most strongly oppose legal gambling. If conservative outlets are starting to convey a shift in public support, it's probably accurate.
So, will the full Senate ultimately listen to their residents and legalize online sports betting in Kentucky? That remains to be seen. But based off everything we are seeing and hearing ahead of the final vote, one thing is certain beyond a shadow of a doubt: This 2023 Kentucky betting bill is already the closest the state has ever gotten to the legalization of both online and in-person sports gambling.
Take a look at this list of the top online sportsbooks so you can find one that works for all of your sports betting needs: