Kentucky sports betting legislation easily advanced Wednesday through the Senate Licensing and Occupations Committee to reach the Senate floor. But the bill sponsor tells PlayUSA it’s a few votes short and not likely to see floor action this week before a veto recess.
“I think we are really close on the votes,” Rep. Michael Meredith said. “[There are] a few undecideds. It will likely be after the recess.”
Meredith’s HB 551 advanced through the Senate committee by a 9-1 vote. But the overwhelming committee support is not an indicator of the vote count in the Senate.
With a three-fifths vote required in odd legislative years, Kentucky sports betting needs 23 Senate votes to pass. Meredith and Senate Majority Leader Damon Thayer have indicated that it has the 20-vote simple majority needed in even years.
The veto recess gives them time to work on getting a few more votes.
The Senate will meet the rest of this week, then take off a week and a half before returning March 29 and 30. The legislature can still pass bills in these final two days as long as they’re confident Gov. Andy Beshear won’t veto them. Fortunately, Beshear has long publicly supported legalizing Kentucky sports betting.
Kentucky sports betting cruises through committee
Meredith and Rep. Matthew Koch presented the Kentucky sports betting bill to the Senate committee.
Koch, who chaired the House committee that passed the bill, lauded Meredith for his efforts.
“Chairman Meredith needs no help on this,” Koch said. “He’s worked tirelessly on this and I’m just here in a role of support to help him see this across the finish line. … We’re talking $23 million in tax revenue for something our constituents all want.”
Sen. Reginald Thomas brought up March Madness and how he expected millions of bets placed on the NCAA Tournament by Kentuckians.
“I just think we’ve got to be realistic here,” Thomas said. “Across the state, people come up to me all the time and say why don’t we allow gaming here in this state? They travel to Indiana, they travel to Ohio, they travel to West Virginia. And we’re losing millions of dollars every year that could go to many good causes like the pension system.”
Thayer, the key figure in getting Kentucky sports betting through the Senate, pointed out that six of the seven states surrounding Kentucky already have legalized it.
“You can stand in Covington, KY, and look across the Ohio river and see a brick-and-mortar sportsbook location. The public wants this. We can’t stop people from doing things that are bad for them. There are a lot of behaviors out there that, done in excess, are bad for people. But my constituents want this, the people of Kentucky want this. It’s time that we give them the choice for God-given free will to engage in sports betting.”
The only no vote came from the committee’s chair, Sen. John Schickel.
Opposition makes case against bill
One day earlier, the Senate voted to ban slot-like “gray machines” that have popped up in bars and convenience stores around the Commonwealth.
The Senate passed HB 594 by a vote of 29-6, sending the bill to Beshear’s desk.
David Walls from The Family Foundation of Kentucky told the committee:
“After just voting to ban gray machines because of very legitimate concerns about every gas station in this Commonwealth being turned into a mini-casino, I certainly hope this honorable body will not vote to turn around and turn every iPhone in Kentucky into a digital casino that kids will have access to.”
Richard Nelson from the Commonwealth Policy Center laid out three reasons the Center opposed Kentucky sports betting:
- Potential corruption of sports.
- Accelerating addictive behavior.
- Normalize gambling for kids.
Sen. Thomas responded to the religious groups that oppose Kentucky sports betting.
“I’m a Christian man. I go to church all the time. And I know a lot of good, moral people. They drink, and they place a bet. And I think that’s just fine.”
Kentucky sports betting never gone this far
Senate committee passage is a significant step forward for Kentucky sports betting.
Last year, the Kentucky House passed sports betting legislation but the Senate Licensing and Occupations Committee never took up the bill.
Thayer continued to fight for the bill in the final days following the veto recess, mentioning the issue on the floor several times.
But the bill didn’t have enough support from his Republican colleagues, starting with Senate President Robert Stivers.
At this point, that’s still the case and it could be another frustrating finish to the Kentucky legislative session. But Kentucky sports betting is closer to passage than ever before.
“We’ve been leaving money on the table for far too long and I really, really hope that we cross the finish line with this legislation,” said Sen. Denise Harper Angel.