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Online poker got a small win in Kentucky today. It and online sports betting are getting closer to legislative approval, because bills legalizing them moved out of a House committee.
Next, that chamber of the Kentucky General Assembly needs to approve the proposed legislation before it can move on to the Senate. If legislators approve the measures before adjourning next month, they head to pro-betting Gov. Andy Beshear to be signed into law.
Rep. Adam Koenig, a long-time advocate of legalizing online gambling, tweeted today:
“Good morning this morning. Sports wagering, pari-mutuel modernization, responsible gaming all passed out of committee. Look forward to seeing them move to the House floor, hopefully sooner rather than later.”
Koenig is the chairman of the committee that took action on the proposed legislation today. The House Licensing, Occupations and Administrative Regulations Committee unanimously approved online poker and online sportsbook legalization.
This is already better than last year’s attempt, which failed to make it past the first step, the Committee on Committees. On the other hand, a similar bill in 2020 got the nod from Licensing & Occupations at first, only to stall when it returned to that committee a second time with amendments.
Koenig is the primary sponsor of that and two other bills that will next reach the House floor:
The remaining legislation the committee approved today, HB 608, regulates “skill games,” including Pace-O-Matic gaming machines. This bill, sponsored by Rep. Killian Timoney, also will “authorize the Kentucky State Police to establish a task force dedicated to removing gambling devices not authorized by law.”
During the House committee meeting, legislators repeatedly notified audience members that there was an “overflow room” for attendees.
David Walls, executive director of the nonprofit The Family Foundation, said Kentucky didn’t need what he characterized as “predatory” gambling.
Walls said his organization opposes expanding gambling in the state:
“Predatory gambling, especially in the expansive form that is being considered this morning in HB 606, is not a victimless form of entertainment or competition. That’s simply the truth and it’s a harsh reality. This type of predatory gambling is designed to prey on human weakness, with the government colluding with the gambling industry to exploit our fellow Kentuckians.
“It is an industry designed not to create wealth, but to simply transfer wealth; primarily from the poor to the wealthy.”
Koenig said Kentuckians are crossing borders and using illegal gambling sites. Passing HB 606 would help “dry up the black market.”
Koenig replied to Walls:
“It was mentioned about taking care of families and that being the job of governments. I ran for office to make Kentucky more business-friendly and to get government out of our lives, not put more government into our lives.
“Second of all, you hear about, on many of these bills, the ‘parade of horribles’ that will occur if passed. And well, I think most of the time, if not all of the time, those parade of horribles never show up.
“There is no question that there are costs. And we’ll talk about that when we get to 609. But those costs exist now. There’s billions being wagered currently illegally in this state on various forms of gaming.”
That includes $2 billion in illegal sports wagering, Koenig said. So it’s important to bring that gambling “out of the shadows.”
As for RG, the state needs to add help for problem gamblers. Kentucky doesn’t fund RG at the moment.
Koenig said of HB 609:
“That we do nothing is not acceptable.”
Online sports betting is legal in 21 states and the District of Columbia.
Online poker is legal in Connecticut, Michigan, New Jersey, Nevada, Pennsylvania and West Virginia. New York lawmakers are considering an online poker bill, as well.
However, online poker isn’t live yet in the Mountain and Nutmeg states. That’s perhaps because West Virginia and Connecticut have a small population vs. the other legal US online poker states.
Kentucky’s 5 million residents may be more appealing to online poker operators, though. New Jersey, with under 9 million residents, has managed to sustain three functional online poker rooms or networks. Even without a multi-state poker agreement, Kentucky would probably be able to attract at least one.
Who knows? One of those operators might even be PokerStars.