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Kentucky Legislators Responsible For Sports Betting Legalization Hold Separate Launch Ceremony

Written By Matthew Kredell on September 8, 2023
Kentucky sports betting Damon Thayer

When Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear signed the Kentucky sports betting bill into law last March, he did so in a ceremony with Republican legislators who led the passage.

Two months before the governor is up for re-election, Thursday’s Kentucky sports betting launch illustrated the politicization of the issue. While the Democratic governor held a ceremony to place the first legal Kentucky sports bet at Churchill Downs in Louisville, a group of about a dozen mostly Republican lawmakers held their own event at Red Mile Gaming and Racing in Lexington.

Rep. Michael Meredith, sponsor of HB 551, spoke first at the legislative launch event:

“This is the day that we finally get to see legal and safe sports betting in the Commonwealth, something we’ve waited a long time. And we get to see dollars that are being contributed to this workplace. Not leaving our state any more to support Indiana and Ohio and Illinois and Tennessee, but to support the programs here in our state.”

Senate Majority Leader Damon Thayer called it a red-letter day at Red Mile to finally bring legal sports betting to the people of Kentucky.

“I’ve never had an issue like this where no matter where I went, to the gym, to the grocery store, restaurants, to UK games, to the halls of the capitol, people came up to me and said, ‘When are you going to get sports betting passed?’ And, of course, years went by and we just couldn’t put the votes together. We watched state after state after state pass sports betting, until earlier this year when Kentucky became the 38th state to legalize sports betting.”

Beshear has made the successful launch of Kentucky sports betting part of his re-election campaign. That hasn’t gone over well with some of the Republican legislators who worked to pass the bill.

“Certainly the success of sports betting can be attributable to a lot of people,” Thayer said. “But I want to make one thing clear here this morning — this is and has been a legislatively driven initiative that has taken the courageous votes of people from all over this Commonwealth. I appreciate every legislator who made the tough vote to legalize sports betting and I’m so happy that all of you are here today.”

Crediting the ‘godfather’ of Kentucky sports betting

Former Kentucky Rep. Adam Koenig started Kentucky on the path to sports betting legalization by introducing legislation in 2019, 2020, 2021 and 2022.

Koenig got the bill through the House in 2022. Meredith took the baton in 2023, and this time Thayer carried the legislation across the finish line in the Senate.

Koenig got an ovation when called the “godfather” of sports betting in Kentucky at the legislative launch event. He told PlayUSA that he was grateful to Thayer and Meredith for inviting him to participate.

“It’s easy to forget people when they’re gone,” Koenig said. “Michael and Damon both definitely did not let that happen.”

Kentucky legislators place their first sports bets

Here’s a tally of the first bets placed by Kentucky legislators at the Caesars Sportsbook in Red Mile.

Thayer put $20 to win $200 on the Cincinnati Bengals to win the Super Bowl.

The Bengals have never won a Super Bowl but have come close the past two seasons, losing to the Los Angeles Rams by a field goal in Super Bowl LVI and falling to the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC Championship last January.

Thayer explained his bet, which he said was the first sports wager he had ever made:

“Well, we don’t have an NFL team in Kentucky. There’s a lot of Bengals fans in Kentucky. A lot of Bengals fans in my district, which goes up to northern Kentucky. It just goes to show you that I’m an eternal optimist.”

Meredith motioned for Koenig to place the second sports wager at Red Mile. Koenig placed $10 on the Cincinnati Reds to win the World Series at 100-to-1 odds. His bet could pay out $1,000.

The Reds were half a game out of the NL Wild Card at the time of the bet.

“The Reds have the easiest schedule in Major League Baseball in the last month so I think they will get in, and then anything can happen,” Koenig told PlayUSA.

Koenig said it was only the second sports bet he’s ever placed. Before the season, he put $100 on the Reds over 66.5 wins. The Reds have already won 73 games with 20 games left in the season.

“So I’m just reinvesting my winnings,” Koenig said. “I won’t bet much. I’m just happy that other people get to do so and we keep their money in the state.”

Meredith put $20 to win $260 on the Kentucky Wildcats to win the 2024 NCAA Tournament.

Thayer tweeted that he later made the second and third sports wagers of his life. He also put a futures bet on the Reds to win the World Series. And he scored his first winning ticket on the Detroit Lions to beat the Chiefs in Thursday night’s NFL season opener.

How Kentucky sports betting legislative beat the odds

Entering the final day of the legislative session, Thayer had said the sports betting bill was two votes short in the Senate. It needed 23 votes to reach the 60% supermajority required for bills in shortened legislative sessions. It had 21. But it ended up with 25.

Before placing his bet, Thayer explained how the bill came from behind to pass.

Senate President Robert Stivers had a reputation as a sports betting obstructionist in the Senate from previous failed efforts. He ended up voting for the bill. But it was unclear if his vote made a difference or if he just decided to put his name on legislation that would pass anyway.

Thayer clarified that Stivers’ last-minute decision to become a sports betting supporter put HB 551 over the top.

“We were at 21 until I walked into President Stivers’ office and he told me that he decided to support sports betting,” Thayer said. Then everything fell in line, and by 5 o’clock that afternoon not only did we have the required number of votes but we had two more than we needed as more and more people came online to support sports betting. It was certainly one of the most memorable days I’ve had in my almost 21 years in the Kentucky state senate.”

Ready for Kentucky online sports betting launch

Beshear and the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission worked to get in-person sports betting started in Kentucky before the NFL season.

Although online sports betting won’t launch in Kentucky until Sept. 28, sports betting apps are taking account registrations.

Koenig said he already signed up and made deposits for Kentucky online sports betting accounts with BetMGM and Bet365 to claim bonus offers.

Both sportsbook apps have partnered with Revolutionary Racing, which is building the Commonwealth’s first quarter horse track in Boyd County. Koenig now serves as executive director of the Kentucky Quarter Horse Racing Association.

Photo by Timothy D. Easley/AP photo; illustrated by PlayUSA
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Matthew Kredell

Matthew Kredell serves as senior lead writer of legislative affairs involving online gambling at PlayUSA. He began covering efforts to legalize and regulate online gambling in 2007 after federal passage of the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act disrupted his hobby of playing small-stakes online poker. He has since interviewed more than 300 lawmakers around the country and written extensively about online gambling legislation. He has led coverage of bills to legalize online gambling in most states. A lifelong Angeleno and USC journalism alum, Matthew started his career working as a sportswriter for a decade at the Los Angeles Daily News. He has written on a variety of topics for Playboy Magazine, Men’s Journal, Los Angeles magazine, LA Weekly and ESPN.com.

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