Kentucky already has one sports betting bill filed. But the Kentucky sports betting bill that matters is still to come.
Rep. Michael Meredith tells PlayUSA that he will file a sports betting bill in the next week or two. The Republican is taking over from former-Rep. Adam Koenig as Kentucky’s sports betting champion.
Koenig, who got legislation to legalize sports betting and online poker through the House last session after four years of trying, lost his re-election bid in November.
“We’re about a week or two from finishing drafting the bill,” Meredith said. “We’re negotiating and talking with the Senate, with House Democrats, our caucus and folks on the industry side to try to make this as right as it can be before we unveil something.”
Earlier this week, three House Democrats refiled Koenig’s bill that passed the House last year. The Democrats wanted to demonstrate their support for legalizing sports betting. They knew Meredith’s bill was on the way and that a Republican needs to take the reins in the conservative Kentucky legislature.
Changes to garner Senate support for Kentucky sports betting
Meredith says his bill will be based on Koenig’s legislation from last year but will have changes from the bill passed by the House. He’s taking the extra time to try to craft a bill that will do better in the Senate.
“I’ve been a co-sponsor of Koenig’s bill and certainly don’t have any problems with it, but we have to think about getting it all the way through the process,” Meredith said. “There’s going to be some changes to try to do that.”
Meredith didn’t want to discuss the changes being considered at this time. However, he did say he’s considering removing the online poker component in which Koenig had a personal interest.
“Online poker seems like a little harder sell,” Meredith said. “It may lose some votes in the Senate, but nothing is completely determined yet. The bill will focus on sports wagering any way you shape it.”
New Senate members could help Kentucky sports betting
Last year, Koenig’s sports betting bill passed 58-30 in the House. Meredith said that, other than missing Koenig, he doesn’t expect a big difference in a House vote.
In trying to rally support in the Senate before the end of the session, Koenig said he had support from half of the 38 Senators, 11 Republicans and eight Democrats. To get called for a vote, though, the bill needed a majority from the Republican caucus. That meant 16 of 30 Republicans.
With 31 Republicans currently in office, that’s still 16 Republicans needed in support. Meredith thinks the Senate got closer to supporting sports betting during the last election.
“I think the Senate has probably shifted a little bit on it,” Meredith said. “I don’t know this for a fact, but from what I know of things they might have picked up a few votes in the election depending on our finalized version of the bill.”
Another matter is if Senate President Robert Stivers would allow Kentucky sports betting to come up for a vote. Senate Majority Leader Damon Thayer has fought for sports betting legislation in past years. But Stivers has not been a proponent.
If a majority of Senate Republicans are on board, Meredith doesn’t think Stivers would attempt to block the bill.
“I don’t know if the Senate President will be a yes vote,” Meredith said. “But I don’t think he’ll stand in the way of it. I think he’s going to want the majority of his caucus to be in favor of the bill. I’m amenable to do what’s needed to make that happen.”
Chances of Kentucky sports betting passage in 2023
Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear has asked the legislature to put a sports betting bill on his desk. When the effort failed last year, he called out Thayer for not doing enough.
“My thought is if Damon Thayer wanted sports betting to pass, he’d get it passed,” Beshear said at the time. “It’s time. The people of Kentucky absolutely want this.”
Meredith defended Thayer to PlayUSA.
“The Senate Majority Leader is a friend, has been a champion for this and continues to be a champion for it. We just got to make sure that he has something to work with to get the rest of the votes on his side.”
It’s more difficult to pass legislation in Kentucky in odd years. There are only 30 session days, all bills must have a revenue component and they must pass by a three-fifths vote. The Kentucky legislative session ends March 30.
Given the harder path to passage and the loss of the state legislature’s biggest sports betting champion, it seems unlikely that Kentucky sports betting will reach the finish line this year.