Let's get this out of the way: Kentucky legal sports betting has no chance of being approved, let alone rolled out, this year. House Bill 606, the most recent gambling initiative, failed to get enough Republican support during the latest legislative session, ensuring that residents won't be able to bet on sports in Kentucky for at least another year.
But many remain skeptical that the state will take the plunge into the legal sports betting industry by 2023. Never mind generating enough support for it. Kentucky has to this point shown limited interest in even discussing the topic.
Still, there are 30 states in the USA with legal sports betting entering the summer of 2022. This number will soon climb even higher as more and more states are projected to join the legal sports betting field. And whenever the majority of the country adopts similar policies, it is typically only a matter of time before all the holdouts follow suit. In essence, for states like Kentucky, the question of legal sports betting is an issue of "when" rather than "if."
The problem for sports betting supporters, however, is that this matter of "when" can drag out for quite a while. Already, some of the United States' most notable holdouts such as Texas and Florida aren't expected to seriously reconsider their sports betting stances before 2024 or 2025, if not later. There are those who believe Kentucky will wind up being in the same boat. But we are not among them.
On the contrary, Kentucky may soon face insurmountable pressure to legalize sports betting thanks to the imminent rollout taking place in Ohio, along with a precedent the state themselves is already setting.
Ohio's Impact on Legal Sports Betting in Kentucky
Does the Sooner State really hold the key to getting Kentucky over the legal sports betting hump? A large group of sports betting industry experts throughout the midwest believe they might.
When Ohio officially opens legal sports betting across online and on-site platforms later this year, Kentucky will find itself surrounded by neighboring states who have already given the green light to some form of gambling. In addition to Ohio, various policies have been adopted in West Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Arkansas and Illinois that allow select types of sports betting. Kentucky is, quite literally, surrounded by states who have legalized sports betting.
And to be sure, this isn't necessarily a peer pressure issue—though it certainly could. It's an economical issue.
Kentucky residents no longer technically need the state to legalize sports betting. Not only are there plenty of operators from our reviews of the top online sportsbooks who will allow them to set up accounts and place wagers, but they can now seamlessly travel across state lines in any direction to gamble on sports.
Taken at face value, this doesn't have to force Kentucky's hand. But this isn't about access. It's about money literally leaving the state. Kentucky residents already spend tens of millions of dollars on offshore or out-state sports betting, per estimates taken from AmericanGaming.org. That number will continue to grow if yet another neighboring state offers the opportunity to submit wagers. And if we presume an average state tax rate, Kentucky is now leaving millions of dollars per year in potential profits on the table.
Kentucky Has Technically Already Entering Sports Betting Pool
Beyond the effect Ohio's sports betting policies will have on Kentucky, the state is actively showing some openness to permitting it through Daily Fantasy Sports.
Available at sportsbook operators like FanDuel, DraftKings and Prize Picks, Daily Fantasy Sports allow users to invest money in building their teams, and they can receive payouts depending on how well the players they've "drafted" have fared in that day's (or week's) game. Though many have argued that Daily Fantasy Sports are games of skill rather than gambling, the same case can, has and will continue to be made for sports betting.
The rise of algorithms, sports betting experts and just generally available data on teams and athletes has more than ever turned the industry into one shaped by the flow of information and retention of knowledge rather than pure chance. Kentucky has still maintained the outright sports betting violates the constitution, but the state's constitution was written eons ago. Times change, and different precedents are set. And in this case, through the allowance or at least inability to oppose Daily Fantasy Sports, Kentucky has actually already set their own.
When Might Kentucky Legal Sports Betting Become Reality?
Per the letter of the law, Kentucky can legalize sports betting at any point in time. Emergency meetings and votes can be held when matters are deemed urgent. But this has generally been unheard of for the issue of sports betting, and Kentucky, in particular, has yet to even prioritize the legalization of sports wagering at legislative sessions.
That doesn't mean sports betting in Kentucky isn't somewhat imminent. Relative to how many other states around them now have legalized it, Kentucky could realistically decide to re-litigate the matter as soon as next year. It may still be the end of 2023 or the beginning of 2024 before any official rollout, but even so, this at least suggests there's a light at the end of the tunnel.
For the time being, Kentucky residents are free to continue offshore betting—or travel in any direction, across state lines, to any of the many, many, many neighboring communities who already offer the chance to engage in legal sports betting.
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