HB 606, to legalize online poker and sports betting, passed the Kentucky House 58-30, with 12 abstentions

Kentucky Lawmakers Galloping Ahead On Online Poker, Sports Betting Bill

Kentucky lawmakers appear ready to decide by this summer on whether to legalize online poker and sports betting.

Representatives passed HB 606 on Friday and on Monday, the majority floor leader in the Senate continued to voice his support for the measure.

Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, replied to a tweet from a constituent who’d wanted to bet on March Madness:

“Hey, Matt. Maybe you haven’t heard, but I am FOR sports betting. Maybe work on convincing others. #KYGA22”

That hashtag stands for “Kentucky General Assembly 2022.”

In addition to that tweet, Thayer provided a statement on Friday about House approval of the bill. His tone of support for the proposed legislation seemed to indicate this may be the year Kentucky legalizes online poker and sports betting.

A couple of publications picked up Thayer’s statement on Friday, including the Thoroughbred Daily News:

“I am a firm supporter of sports betting and hope enough of my fellow members join me in supporting the measure so we can join most of America in allowing it to occur.”

If the Senate votes favorably on online gambling by the time the Kentucky General Assembly adjourns on April 15, the proposed legislation would only need gubernatorial approval.

Considering Gov. Andy Beshear is known as a gambling advocate, he will likely sign the bill into law.

In a related matter, representatives approved HB 608 in a 50 to 31 vote. The measure sponsored by Rep. Killian Timoney, R-Lexington, regulates “skill games,” including Pace-O-Matic gaming machines.

UPDATE: 03/30/2022

Horse racing fans who wager on the sport will see their winnings grow by about a cent. The Senate passed HB 607 in a 33-to-1 vote yesterday. In addition to calling for fractional winnings to be rounded up to the penny, the bill creates a uniform 1.5% tax on parimutuel wagering.

The next step it must climb is receiving the governor’s signature before it becomes law.

Bill sponsor Koenig tweeted late last night:

“And it is done! Thanks to my Senate partner @damon_thayer . So much goodness I’m not sure we can stand it all, but let’s find out!”

As for the other three online gambling bills in the Senate, all eyes are on the online poker and sports betting measure.

Koenig, who has tried for years to have what’s now named HB 606 become law, took to the airwaves today to advocate the proposed legislation. The bill needs two more readings and a vote before it can move along to Beshear to be signed into law.

Koenig retweeted the video:

“It’s everywhere. It doesn’t matter what party the state is run by: Democrat, Republican. It’s a bipartisan or nonpartisan issue.”

Senators also read the RG bill for the first time yesterday and the skill games measure is slated to receive an up-or-down vote today.

UPDATE: 03/25/2022

Timoney’s HB 608 regarding skill games saw the most movement in the Senate. It made it to the Senate floor on Tuesday, when senators read it for the second time. On Thursday, two state senators filed separate amendments to the bill.

The proposed legislation everyone is watching that would legalize online poker and sports betting in Kentucky, HB 606, advanced from the Committee on Committees to the Senate Standing Committee Licensing and Occupations on Tuesday.

Today, Thayer replied to a tweet from a sports fan urging him to tell a fellow senator “to actually do his job” regarding sports betting:

“A. Yes, I am in favor of sports betting.

“B. Telling people what to do in this town generally doesn’t work out well.”

“C. Try telling people in your life what to do and see how it goes for you.”

Meanwhile, the two issues that hadn’t been approved by the House as of March 18 received passing votes on Monday:

  • The RG measure, HB 609, passed with an 81 to 14 vote. The approval included a House amendment to reduce the funding from $225 million to $50 million. On Tuesday, the bill moved into the Senate Standing Committee Appropriations and Revenue.
  • Representatives acted on HB 607 on parimutuel wagering with a 66 to 29 vote in favor of sending it on to the Senate. On Thursday, senators gave it a second reading on the floor, then returned it to the licensing and occupations committee.

Many Republicans favor HB 606 this year

Exactly 37 Republicans voted in favor of HB 606, accounting for nearly two-thirds of the support. They were joined by 21 Democrats. With 58 total votes cast in favor of the measure on Friday and 30 against, the bill has momentum that it hasn’t had in previous years.

In March 2020, proposed legislation stalled in the House because House Republicans didn’t want to vote on the bill at all unless they thought it would be likely to pass in the Senate. The fact that they were willing to do so this time probably bodes well for the bill’s chances in the Senate. On the other hand, all the votes against the bill came from Republicans, while Democrats were unanimous in their support, save for 3 abstentions.

In 2022, Kentucky’s legislative bodies are still majority Republican, but lawmakers’ attitudes seem to have shifted in favor of legalizing online poker and online sports betting.

Prevailing winds favor sports betting

Part of that change in sentiment may be due to the fact that US online sports betting is legal in more than half of the states, as HB 606 primary sponsor Rep. Adam Koenig, R-Erlanger, likes to point out on Twitter with the hashtag #makeKY34.

Nonprofit iDEA Growth (iDevelopment and Economic Association) explained the hashtag on Friday in a retweet of Koenig’s “#makeKY34: On to the Senate!” post:

“If the Kentucky Senate passes this bill, the state will be the 34th to authorize sports betting. Congrats to @repkoenig for getting the bill out of his chamber.”

Some of this year’s bill supporters include Republicans who also did so in 2021, for HB 241.

Those 10 House Republicans sponsored HB 241 last year and voted for HB 606 in 2022 are:

  • Koenig
  • Kim Banta
  • Thomas Huff
  • Matthew Koch
  • William Lawrence
  • C. Ed Massey
  • Michael Meredith
  • Jerry T. Miller
  • Sal Santoro
  • Timoney

Seven of the eight Democrats repeated their support, as well. Most notably Rep. Al Gentry, D-Louisville, has co-sponsored bills with Koenig through the years that were aimed at legalizing online gambling.

Responsible gambling, parimutuel wagering bills remain in House

Koenig also sponsored HB 609, which would have created Kentucky’s first responsible gambling (RG) initiative.

He proposed setting up a regulatory body and a $225 million fund for an RG program. That’s the amount of the PokerStars settlement reached in September 2021 with Dublin-based Flutter Entertainment. That company now owns the online poker operator.

Like HB 607, which would’ve created a uniform 1.5% tax on parimutuel wagering, the RG measure remains in a committee.

Representatives are considering two amendments to the RG legislation:

  • James Tipton, R-Taylorsville, proposed lowering the RG fund to $50 million; and
  • Josh Calloway, R-Livingston, sponsored the amendment to decrease the RG fund from $225 million to $25 million.
- Heather Fletcher is the lead writer with OnlinePokerReport. She's a career journalist, with bylines in The New York Times, Adweek and other publications. Reach her at [email protected]
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