KY HB606 is a repeat of last year's sports betting and online poker effort, but drops the Kentucky Speedway as an operator

Kentucky’s Online Poker And Sports Betting Bill Is Up For Consideration… Again

We knew it was coming.

As of Wednesday, Kentucky is officially back at bat in its never-ending effort to legalize sports betting. The good news for Online Poker Report readers is that, as we predicted in February, the bill’s primary sponsor,  Rep. Adam Koenig, is trying to bring online poker along for the ride.

The bad news is that Kentucky has struck out on its last three at-bats. True, there have been many factors distracting from the effort in the past: the COVID-19 pandemic, fallout from the 2020 federal election, and so forth. However, there’s also just a lot of resistance in Kentucky to gambling expansion generally.

Pro-gambling forces scored a minor victory last year. A bill narrowly passed, expanding the definition of parimutuel wagering to include historical horse racing machines. Some might see that as a sign the tides are turning. However, the Kentucky Family Foundation, one of the biggest gambling opponents in the state, told local media that it thinks the opposite is true and that legislators won’t want to wade back into another “ugly and divisive fight” so quickly.

What’s the bill’s current status?

Since HB 606 has only just been introduced, there’s been no movement yet. It currently sits with the comically-named Committee on Committees. From there it should be assigned to a more specific committee for further discussion, probably the Committee on Licensing, Occupations and Administrative Regulations.

To start with, the bill has just five sponsors, including Koenig. That’s four more than some bills in other states, but a short list compared to previous efforts in Kentucky. Last year’s bill had 18 sponsors by the time its momentum stalled, and the 2020 effort ended up with a whopping 42 names on the bill.

That doesn’t mean five is all HB 606 will ever have, mind you. New sponsors can and probably will put their name on the bill at later stages of the process. Of the five on there currently, only Rep. Rachel Roberts was absent from the 2021 effort, and even she appears among the supporters of the 2020 bill. Roberts is a Democrat and Koenig is a Republican, so this is already a bipartisan effort. The other three sponsors, Reps. Gentry, Meredith and Stevenson are likewise split between the parties, two Democrats to one Republican.

Republicans hold a strong majority in both halves of the Kentucky General Assembly. However, many of these are social conservatives whose base will resist gambling expansion, so support from most or all Democrat Representatives will be necessary for the bill to succeed.

Is anything new in Kentucky’s 2022 effort?

According to Rep. Koenig, the only significant change from last year’s effort is the removal of the Kentucky Speedway from the list of valid sports betting operators. That leaves the state’s horse racing tracks as the only authorized participants. The removal of the Speedway was presumably at their behest.

By way of explanation, Koenig told WHAS11 that sportsbooks would be “a natural extension” of the state’s horse racing culture.

The change probably helps the bill’s chances, though perhaps only slightly. It removes the potential hurdle of objections from the horse racing industry at having to share some revenue with motorsports. It also means one fewer sports betting venue in the state, which might at least mitigate some local resistance from those living close to the Speedway, which is in the northern part of the state, between Louisville and Cincinnati.

- Alex is a journalist from Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, Canada. Now site runner for Online Poker Report, he has been writing about poker and the online gambling industry in various capacities since 2014.
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