Kentucky continues to register among the places in the United States that has yet to legalize sports betting, and that doesn't appear on the verge of changing anytime soon. The Kentucky senate again opted against pushing a bill through that would've legalized gambling online and in-person, and it remains to be seen whether the status quo will move in the near future.
If you were hoping to start betting on sports in Kentucky this year, we've got some bad news for you: It isn't going to happen. Just like they did in 2020, Kentucky has yet again decided not to legalize sports betting throughout the state.
This decision ensures Kentucky will stay in the minority. There is now legal sports betting in the USA for more than half of the states as of May 2022. Others are soon expected to join the fold, as well—like California. And yet, Kentucky continues to remain on the outskirts.
Why did they decide to go this route? Will their stance ever change? Let's break it all down.
Kentucky's Sports Betting Decision Came Down to the Wire
The latest Kentucky sports betting bill, HB 606, would have legalized online gambling throughout the state, almost without restriction. Under the proposed terms, everyone from tribes to bigger sportsbooks with larger online presences (FanDuel, DraftKings, WynnBet, etc.) would have been eligible to apply for a gaming license.
For a while, it almost looked like the measure would pass—not with flying colors, but pass all the same. HB 606 made it through the House of Representatives and was deemed the "topic du jour" when the Senate finally met to deliberate. While the House of Reps isn't always an accurate representation of what the Senate will do, the vote passed 58-30, suggesting a larger share of support than expected.
Even as HB 606 was floating around the Senate, reports surfaced that it remained alive and well despite various roadblocks and oppositions. It was thought that even some of the more conservative members liked that the bill outlawed what are known as "grey machines."
Alas, in the end, there was too much pushback from the Senate. Momentum was specifically driven by the Family Foundation of Kentucky and other anti-gambling groups. Complicated still, there was no ironclad statement on how close (or not) HB 606 came to passing. Senate Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer simply said "We don't have the votes."
Why Didn't the Senate Legalize Sports Betting?
Most of the opposition to legal sports betting in Kentucky rests on moral and religious matters. People who fall under this umbrella argue that gambling is essentially a sin or a drug, something that can become an addiction and ruin lives while going against the Christian way of life.
And to be sure, this logic is not uncommon. On the contrary, sports betting continues to be prohibited in many midwestern states for similar moral and religious reasons. In essence, any state that skews toward conservative Republican leadership is bound to have a strong coalition of members who think along these lines.
Others, meanwhile, simply argue there isn't a big enough market for sports betting in Kentucky. College basketball and college football are the only sports that officially reside within the state. The absence of a true pro sports team has many government officials believing that the legalization of sports betting would be expensive and time-consuming while not yielding a significant payout.
There is a Market for Sports Betting in Kentucky
Any financial concerns about the legalization of sports betting in Kentucky continue to ring hollow. Even if they, like many other states, institute a regional ban on college sports betting, there are still plenty of people who will be interested in placing wagers on pro sporting events, futures, and teams located outside the state. That's the entire point of online sports betting: access to options beyond your state lines.
Maybe local officials think the residents of Kentucky will be the exception when it comes to sports betting. News flash: They won't be. In fact, they already aren't.
People in Kentucky are already trying to place bets. Whether they're using illegal bookies or attempting to access the top reviewed online sportsbooks, they have shown a clear interest in the product. According to a report from GeoComply, a cybersecurity solutions firm, they recently needed to block "more than 530,000 attempts form within Kentucky to access/place a wager in a state has legal sports betting."
That is a pretty big number—and it isn't even close to reflective of the entire Kentucky sports betting market. Plenty of residents are no doubt using illegal domestic bookies, placing bets offshore or finding ways to submit wagers in states that have already legalized sports betting.
There's Still Hope for Legal Sports Betting in Kentucky
Supporters of legal sports betting in Kentucky can and should be peeved at the latest results. Their attempts to legalize sports betting in the state have now been thwarted on multiple occasions. But all hope is not lost.
As many have pointed out, the upcoming 2022 elections are a chance for the residents to make their voices heard. Though sports betting won't specifically be on the ballot, most of the seats in the House of Representatives and Senate are up for re-election. If voters aren't happy with the betting stances being parroted by incumbents across both branches, they will have the opportunity to switch gears.
Whether Kentucky voters want sports betting badly enough to flip their Senate representatives is a separate matter. But even the idea that they might can put pressure on incumbents to change their tune. This is all to say that, one way or another, we'll have another legal sports betting development in Kentucky at some point in the coming months.
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