Welcome to Kentucky! For a state well-known for horse racing, it is shocking how there are so few other types of gambling in the Bluegrass State. There are no casinos of any kind in Kentucky. Aside from the various venerable racetracks, the lottery and the bingo halls in the state, you cannot place a legal bet of any sort here. It almost goes without saying that online gambling in Kentucky is also limited. You won’t find real money online casinos in the state either.
The only bill in recent years to have a realistic chance of expanding Kentucky’s profile was a measure proposed in 2020. Rep. Adam Koenig’s HB 137 primarily focused its legislative attention on sports betting but also included provisions for legal online poker and daily fantasy sports in the state. All seemed to be on track for legalization until other representatives attached nearly a dozen amendments to the bill. Even if the legislative session had not ended in April 2020, many of these amendments would have been fatal to the bill’s chances for passage.
So, despite the forward progress, the gambling landscape in Kentucky remains the same as it has been for decades. However, Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear announced support of a full casino gambling profile for the state. With that kind of muscle behind the issue, something may actually change for Kentucky gamblers soon. Check back here to see if the situation in the state changes at all, but for now, here is the latest information on gambling in Kentucky.
Play online slots or casino games in Kentucky
Can you gamble online in Kentucky?
For the most part, you cannot gamble online in Kentucky legally. There are no legal online casinos, sportsbooks or poker rooms in the Bluegrass State. Any site that says otherwise is mistaken, but we’ll explain why in a bit. Kentucky law defines gambling as the following:
“Staking or risking something of value upon the outcome of a contest, game, gaming scheme, or gaming device which is based upon an element of chance, in accord with an agreement or understanding that someone will receive something of value in the event of a certain outcome. A contest or game in which eligibility to participate is determined by chance and the ultimate winner is determined by skill shall not be considered to be gambling.”
There are a few ways to place a bet here and there, though, so it’s important that you know about those. First and foremost, you can wager on horse races online. In a state synonymous with betting the ponies, it wouldn’t make much sense if you had to travel to one of the tracks to play. Churchill Downs hosts its own horse betting site, in fact — TwinSpires is a fine place to bet on races both at the track itself and at tracks around the country (and world). However, we also recommend that you give TVG a try. TVG is both a site to place bets on horse races and a 24-hour broadcast network dedicated to the sport.
Another type of online gambling that you can try in Kentucky is online lottery. Although it’s a bit of a shock, due to how restrictive Kentucky is about other types of gambling, you can find an entire spectrum of lottery games available from the Kentucky Lottery site or its app. Instant win games, draw games, scratchers, and even keno games allow you to play from virtually anywhere in the state.
You can also take part in daily fantasy sports contests in Kentucky. Now, to be fair, DFS is in a bit of legal limbo right now. Koenig’s 2020 bill would have made the activity officially legal in the Bluegrass State, but the bill’s failure meant that there is no DFS law on the books. However, both FanDuel and DraftKings, the two main DFS providers, allow players from Kentucky.
Finally, you can play sweepstakes casino games or social casino games from your mobile device or computer in Kentucky. These sites exist under the sweepstakes classification because they are free to enter, free to play and do not offer players the ability to get special treatment with a purchase.
Are online casinos legal in Kentucky?
No. Online casinos are not legal in Kentucky. Don’t believe it if you see statements to the contrary. At best, they’re mistaken. At worst, they’re outright falsehoods.
What’s legal are the sweepstakes and social casino sites that we mentioned above. The three alternative options that stand out are Chumba Casino, LuckyLand Slots and Funzpoints. All three offer a variety of slots for real money prizes. You can also find some options for table games on Chumba and keno on Funzpoints. In all three cases, the games are smooth and visually appealing and look and act the same as you would find on real money sites. Keep in mind both Chumba Casino and Luckyland Slots are social casino sites while Funzpoints offers a sweepstakes site.
Can you play online poker in Kentucky?
No. Similar to the status of online casino play, online poker is not legal in Kentucky at this time. The best option for online poker in the Bluegrass State is the sweepstakes site Global Poker. A sister site to Chumba and LuckyLand, Global offers cash games, tournaments, sit and go’s, and jackpot sit and go’s (aka spin and go’s) for real money prizes. You can find game options for No Limit Texas Hold’em and Pot Limit Omaha. In addition, there are a few tournaments that offer Crazy Pineapple as the game of choice.
Will Kentucky regulate online gambling in the future?
Maybe, but it’s not going to be easy. The issue of gambling itself, online or otherwise, is quite divisive within the Kentucky Legislature. There are powerful supporters of expansion, but there are also plenty who oppose it and, according to one lawmaker, would get rid of the lottery and horse racing if they could. One of the biggest supporters is the governor of Kentucky, Andy Beshear, who has repeatedly stated that he sees online gambling as part of Kentucky’s future. However, those who oppose expansion are willing to pull out as many tricks of the legislative trade as they can to keep things from moving forward. The most recent bill, for instance, failed not because it didn’t have the votes, but because the opponents managed to stymie attempts to call for a quorum.
So, online gambling may become legal and regulated in Kentucky at some point soon, but it’s probably going to require a change of personnel in the Legislature to get there. Oddly enough, along with sports betting, the most likely expansion is going to be for online poker, rather than online casinos. Koenig’s bill pointedly included online poker but not online casino play as new elements in Kentucky. Obviously, Kentucky sports betting (and DFS) are the top priorities, but if that happens, Kentucky may then look to online poker.
Legal online gambling vs. unregulated sites
There are no legal real money online casinos in Kentucky. The only option for anyone looking to play slots online or play a hand of poker are the sweepstakes and social casinos mentioned above. These are legal to play in Kentucky and many other states. If a real money site accepts players in Kentucky, it is not a licensed or regulated site. A licensed site usually notes the Kentucky state seal or mentions in the fine print that the site is authorized for play in Kentucky.
The thing to realize is that no matter where you are, a web search will return results for online casinos. However, there are, in fact, four types of online casinos, and it’s important that you be able to discern what kind of site you’ve discovered before you proceed. Here are the four types of online casino gaming:
- Legal, regulated casinos: These apps are licensed, registered and legitimate entities in their states. Kentucky does not have any of these.
- Offshore, unregulated casinos: These sites do not fall under any American jurisdiction, including Kentucky. These casinos are the ones that you’re probably seeing when you search. They come with several risks and we do not recommend you play on them.
- Sweepstakes casinos: We already discussed these casinos, but they are legal and free to play. Above all else, you should be able to find some way to get your hands on redeemable-for-real-money currency.
- Social casinos: These sites are what you’ll usually find through social media or on free apps. They can offer plenty of fun, but there is never any money involved when it comes to playing or winning. You might be able to buy some chips, but they have no cash value at any time. Common social casinos you might see include Double Down Casino, Zynga, Slotomania, and Big Fish.
Now, let’s circle back to those offshore casinos. We call them offshore because that’s where they are headquartered. Playing on one of these sites presents a series of problems that make it not worth the risk. The problem is that the law does not simply function to punish. It also serves as protection, and playing offshore removes you from many of the protections and options that you would have with a legal domestic site. If something were to go wrong or you had some sort of dispute with the site, you might not have too many ways to get help. Even if the site advertises an independent regulator of its own, you have no way to tell if the situation is fair. You’re also trusting your personal information to an unknown company.
Even if the site is fairly managed, you also cannot be sure about its security and encryption. With no standard level of security and no confirmed regulatory body overseeing it all, you can never be sure how safe your data is. Remember, you will have to furnish your name, address, phone number, date of birth, email address and Social Security number to the site. You’ll also have to share your banking information.
The reality is that you just need to be patient to see if Kentucky legalizes any forms of online gambling. In the meantime, you can use the sweepstakes casino sites. They are domestic and safe, and can help to tide you over until the Legislature gets itself together on the subject.
Who oversees gambling in Kentucky?
The Kentucky Horse Racing Commission and the Kentucky Lottery. There isn’t a ton of legal gambling in Kentucky, and most of it falls under the heading of horse betting, so the racing commission is the natural agency to oversee those activities. Obviously, the lottery commission has plenty of pull with its games, too, since there are both retail and online games to play.
Since online gambling is not legal in Kentucky just yet, the oversight for those activities will probably rest with one of those two agencies. The most recent attempt to expand online gambling named only the Public Protection Cabinet, the section of government that contains both of those agencies, as the oversight body. Our guess would be that the Kentucky Lottery would be in charge, based upon the online gambling oversight that it already performs, but it will depend on the language of any future bills.
What is the legal gambling age in Kentucky?
The minimum age is 18. Because gambling in Kentucky extends only to horse racing and lottery games, players must be just 18 to participate. Koenig’s bill maintained this age for online poker and sports betting, too, which would have made Kentucky’s legal gambling age one of the youngest in the nation. It’s not clear if any future expansions will hold this particular line, but there’s no real push to make 21 the legal gambling age in the Bluegrass State.
How to gamble responsibly in Kentucky
Gambling is often a fun activity, whether it’s betting on horses, playing a DFS contest, or buying a lottery ticket. Unfortunately, gambling also comes with health risks. According to the National Council on Problem Gambling, just over 1% of gamblers in Kentucky suffer from problem gambling or gambling addiction. Although Kentucky’s gambling options are fewer in number than in other states, you can still have as big of a problem with horse betting, DFS and the other options in the Bluegrass State as with any other type of gambling.
Your first resource to explore is the Kentucky Council on Problem Gambling. The KYCPG is the state affiliate of the National Council on Problem Gambling and can connect you with the appropriate counselors or treatment options. The council also maintains several hotlines that are staffed by trained professionals 24 hours a day. You can call 1-800-GAMBLER day or night to get started. The KYCPG also maintains a secondary website, kygamblerhelp.org.
Unfortunately, Kentucky is one of only a handful of states without any kind of funding set aside for problem gambling. So, the best option that you will find for relief are support groups like Gamblers Anonymous and Gam-Anon. In fact, Gamblers Anonymous has several Kentucky-specific hotlines that you can use:
- Lexington: 513-322-5998
- Louisville: 855-222-5542
- Cincinnati: 855-222-5542
If you prefer to stay in the comfort of your home, you can also try the forums at Gamtalk. Gamtalk is a discussion board that functions in a manner similar to Gamblers Anonymous but over the internet. You can ask questions, find others in the same situation and start finding your way out of the hole.
It is possible to self-exclude from the Kentucky Lottery. In addition, the tracks themselves may offer self-exclusion. It’s a radical option made more difficult by how patchwork it is in Kentucky, but it is available.
Types of legal gambling in Kentucky
Although casino gambling is not legal in Kentucky, there are several types of gambling that are available to people of gambling age. Obviously, the list of legal gambling activities in Kentucky is subject to change. Based upon the growing competition in nearby states, it probably will change sometime in the near future. For now, here are the ways you can place a wager in Kentucky:
- Pari-mutuel wagering on live horse races
- Pari-mutuel wagering on simulcast horse races
- Online horse betting
- Historical horse racing
- Lottery games
- Online lottery
- Daily fantasy sports*
- Home poker games
- Charitable gaming (bingo, raffles, etc.)
We already discussed the lottery options. Charitable gaming is pretty straightforward. We’ll discuss horse racing in a section below. As we mentioned earlier, DFS is proceeding in a sort of weird status where it is under the oversight of the state attorney general, but lawmakers keep trying to legalize it — presumably for the tax revenue. Finally, home poker games are fine so long as nobody’s making any money off the game in any way, shape or form. Based upon Chapter 528 of the Kentucky Revised Statutes, you’d better be hosting a game out of the goodness of your heart, or you’re promoting gambling. If you manage to collect $500, you’ve committed a felony. So, you can host a poker game, but don’t make it too nice and don’t ask people to throw in for pizza and beer.
Are there casinos in Kentucky?
No. Kentucky is one of the few states in the country with no casinos whatsoever. There are some smaller Native American tribes within the state, but none of them possess the federal recognition necessary to negotiate gambling compacts with the Kentucky government. Furthermore, there is no evidence that there are plans to expand the gambling profile in the state to include physical casinos. Online casinos in Kentucky might be in the state’s future sometime in the next five years, but actual casinos are going to remain travel destinations for Kentuckians. The closest thing to casinos in Kentucky is betting at its horse tracks.
Horse racing in Kentucky
Horse racing is as endemic to Kentucky as casinos to Nevada, potatoes to Idaho, or pickup trucks to Texas. We can reliably find evidence of horse racing in the area at least as early as 1787, and it’s likely to have existed beforehand. In other words, horse racing predates statehood for the Bluegrass State and is only about a decade younger than the United States itself. It’s no surprise that the most famous horse race in the world takes place in Kentucky each year. The pomp and circumstance of the Kentucky Derby is essentially the state’s Super Bowl.
Needless to say, there are many fine racing venues in Kentucky. Obviously, the cream of the crop is Churchill Downs, the host track of the Kentucky Derby and the top horse track in the US. However, Kentucky is also home to Keeneland, which hosts as many or more Grade I races in a given year than Churchill does. Kentucky is also a major destination for harness races, due to the fact that The Red Mile hosts the Kentucky Futurity each year — part of the Triple Crown of Harness Racing for Trotters. So, although Kentucky tends to regard gambling with hostility and suspicion, the state’s status as a gambling mecca for handicappers remains unchallenged. Here are the various tracks in Kentucky:
|Churchill Downs||700 Central Ave., Louisville, KY 40208||502-636-4400||Track|
|Turfway Park||7500 Turfway Road, Florence, KY 41042||859-371-0200||Track|
|Ellis Park Racing and Gaming||3300 US 41, Henderson, KY 42420||812-425-1456||Track/HHR|
|Keeneland||4201 Versailles Road, Lexington, KY 40510||859-254-3412||Track/HHR|
|Kentucky Downs||5629 Nashville Road, Franklin, KY 42134||270-586-7778||Track/HHR|
|Oak Grove Racing, Gaming & Hotel||777 Winners Way, Oak Grove, KY 42262||270-984-4200||Track/HHR|
|The Red Mile||1200 Red Mile Road, Lexington, KY 40504||859-255-0752||Track/HHR|
|Derby City Gaming||4520 Poplar Level Road, Louisville, KY 40213||502-961-7600||Standalone HHR|
|Newport Racing & Gaming||1723 Monmouth St., Newport, KY 41071||859-647-4700||Standalone HHR|
Is horse betting legal in Kentucky?
Of course. Betting the ponies is part of the cultural fabric of Kentucky, and there are several ways to do it. Obviously, you can bet on the slate of races held at each of the tracks. In addition, you can also wager on races around the country through the simulcast facilities at the tracks. Perhaps surprisingly, the OTBs at the track are the only ones in the state — there are no standalone off-track betting locations in Kentucky.
However, there are also advance deposit wagering sites — better known as online horse betting. There are plenty of great horse betting sites out there and a good bunch of them set up camp in Kentucky. But, for the aspiring or improving handicapper, it’s tough to beat horse betting at TVG.
Historical horse racing in Kentucky
Though Kentucky’s place in horse racing is undeniable, the sport itself has been in decline for several decades. Unfortunately, the slower pace of the races and the limited betting opportunities do not fit in an increasingly fast-moving world, and horse racing’s trajectory has been steadily trending downward. Since racing horses is so intrinsic to Kentucky’s identity, lawmakers sought a way to reinvigorate the public about the activity. Thus, the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission expanded the definition of pari-mutuel wagering to include historical horse racing machines.
Instant Racing is a form of wagering in which players use machines to bet on horse races that have already taken place. From the player’s point of view, there is little difference between these devices and slot machines. The main differences are in the determination of the winner on the back end of the device. The KRC decided to allow the installation of the devices at Kentucky racetracks after seeing the boost they provided to the industry in Arkansas.
Unfortunately, the introduction of slot-type machines drew the ire of several groups inside the state. Their collective arguments led to the issue’s consideration by the Kentucky Supreme Court. In 2020, the highest court in the state declared that HHR was, in fact, illegal gambling at some of Kentucky’s tracks. The machines, which had become a $2 billion business since their introduction, seemed to be doomed.
However, the Kentucky Legislature stepped in. The passage of Senate Bill 120 in February 2021 resettled the issue of HHR machines as a legal concept in the state. There are now thousands of these devices available for play at locations throughout Kentucky.
History of gambling in Kentucky
Kentucky is definitely a gambling state. It always has been, and it always will be. However, it is a specific gambling state that is focused almost entirely on horse racing. The history of gambling in Kentucky reveals a smattering of small inclusions to the state’s gambling profile. For a state incorporated in 1792, it’s a rather spare history, but regardless, here are the five most important dates in Kentucky gambling history.
The first documented instance of horse racing in Kentucky occurs in Lexington. Races feature horses running in a park known as The Commons. Two years later, Louisville residents are using Market Street as their own racecourse — a concept that Lexington adopts shortly thereafter. In succeeding years, officials increasingly move the races away from public thoroughfares out of safety concerns. The first official track, the Lexington Association Track, opens in 1858, but it isn’t until a competing venue opens its doors in 1875 that horse racing and Kentucky become permanently entwined in the minds of the public. Of course, that competing venue is Churchill Downs.
Due to pressure from then-Gov. Wallace G. Wilkinson, Kentucky lawmakers put the question of a state lottery to voters on the November ballot. The measure, which asks Kentuckians if they would be in favor of a state lottery, passes with 60% of the vote. The first lottery tickets go on sale in October 1989, with the purpose of funding education initiatives in the state. Since 1999, the Kentucky Lottery has contributed more than $4 billion in grants and scholarships to Kentucky students.
Kentucky lawmakers, perhaps emboldened by their lottery success four years prior, pass legislation to allow charitable gaming to proceed in the state. Parlors for games like bingo or a raffle begin to pop up all over the state and must only work in service to licensed charitable organizations inside the state. The legalization is not universally popular, and bingo proponents find themselves party to a lawsuit over the new amendment’s constitutionality. The Kentucky Court of Appeals upholds and reverses, each in part, the Charitable Gaming Act. However, the law stands in reasonable form, and players continue to have bingo and raffle options in the Bluegrass State.
After authorizing legislation passes a year prior, the first Instant Racing historical horse racing devices begin to appear at Kentucky horse tracks. The machines are an unqualified success for the health of the industry and have far-reaching impacts on keeping horse racing going in Kentucky. Because of the new revenue stream, purses at Kentucky live races grow and begin to attract more prestigious horses. It is not an exaggeration to say that Kentucky is home to nearly two dozen Grade I races due to HHR, at least in part.
The first internet sales of draw lottery games and instant win games take place in April. The Kentucky Lottery offers players the ability to purchase Mega Millions, Powerball and KY Cash Ball tickets from their computers and mobile devices. There are also five instant win games available, including options for as little as 50 cents to play. The first iteration of the app for the lottery debuts the following December. The launch makes Kentucky one of only a few states with full-blown online lottery options and sales.
What’s next for Kentucky online gambling
Kentucky is a study in contradictions. The state that created bourbon still has several dry counties. It is America’s primary home to horse racing, the country’s oldest type of gambling, yet remains quite hesitant to expand its gambling profile. There are some signs that the clouds may be breaking, though. A recent sports betting/online poker bill had enough support in both the House and Senate to pass and was only undone by some political gamesmanship from a small minority of opposition. However, political games can only last so long, so we can hope that things are beginning to turn in Kentucky.