Kentucky Senate Majority Leader Damon Thayer is doing all he can to back sports betting and doesn’t want to hear any more on it from the state’s current governor.
Gov. Andy Beshear has been an outspoken champion for legalizing sports betting in the Bluegrass State.
But Thayer says the Democratic governor isn’t helping matters with his politically charged comments toward the Republican-controlled legislature to get something done on sports betting.
Thayer still bristles over a comment Beshear made at the end of last session accusing him of not doing enough to encourage sports betting passage in the state’s Senate.
Thayer told PlayUSA:
“I recommend that the governor be a little more careful with his rhetoric because I’m the leading advocate for this in the Senate. And if he’s going to say stupid shit like that again, I might have other things to work on.”
Beshear’s support of Kentucky sports betting
Beshear has been stumping for legislators to put a Kentucky sports betting bill on his desk since 2020. In his 2022 State of the Commonwealth address, he said that Rep. Adam Koenig had filed a sports betting bill and he fully supported it.
As a Republican, Koenig was surprised to get name-dropped by the Democratic governor.
Koenig, who lost his re-election bid in November, finally got his bill authorizing sports wagering, online poker and daily fantasy sports through the House last year.
However, the bill died in the Senate despite prodding from Beshear. Asked if Beshear’s comments on sports betting are helping in the Republican-controlled legislature, Thayer succinctly said:
“He doesn’t help.”
Thayer can only do so much
As Senate Majority Leader, Thayer is second in the line of command in the Kentucky Senate.
However, Senate President Robert Stivers has opposed sports betting. In 2022, there weren’t enough votes from the Senate Republican Caucus, where many make a pledge to Kentucky religious organizations not to expand gambling when they take office.
Last year, Koenig said that 11 Senate Republicans supported the bill while 16 of 30 were needed to call it for a vote. With some new lawmakers appearing more favorable to sports betting, Thayer is hoping the issue picks up some votes.
“There’s some people unalterably opposed to it,” Thayer said. “I’m hoping maybe a couple members change their mind and a couple new ones make a difference.”
But Thayer said the key is convincing Stivers not to stand in the way.
“I think it’s going to be difficult to pass sports betting unless President Stivers changes his opinion. It’s difficult for a controversial bill to pass without the Senate President’s support.”
Prospects for 2023 Kentucky sports betting passage
Thayer has been working with Rep. Michael Meredith to craft a Kentucky sports betting bill that could find more support in the Senate.
He’s asked Meredith to drop online poker and daily fantasy sports from the bill. Online poker was a passion project of Koenig, who played himself.
“I just think the bill needs to be narrowly tailored toward legalizing sports betting,” Thayer said. “I think having fantasy sports and online poker in there were unnecessary distractions.”
In odd years, legislation adding taxes needs to pass in Kentucky by a three-fifths vote. It’s a short session with the legislature only meeting for 30 days as well.
Add in Koenig’s departure and Stivers’ continued opposition, and it appears unlikely that Kentucky will pass sports betting legislation in 2023.
However, regardless of what Beshear thinks, Thayer plans to push for passage. Unless, of course, the governor angers him with another comment.
“There’s a chance but I’m not willing to lay odds on it, that’s for sure. Yeah, there’s a higher vote threshold and the fact it’s a short session makes it harder as well. But I’m going to keep advocating for it. I think we should have it. All our surrounding states have it and they’re turned out to be more successful than predicted. I think it would be more successful than predicted in Kentucky. We’re a sports-crazy state. We have a long tradition of betting on horses, and I think this would add to that.”