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Legislation allowing sports wagering in Kentucky easily passes house licensing committee

By Tom Latek
Kentucky Today

Legislation to allow sports wagering in Kentucky easily won approval from the House Licensing, Occupations and Administrative Regulations Committee on Wednesday.

Rep. Adam Koenig, R-Erlanger and chairman of the committee is the sponsor of the bill, which he says could generate $20-50 million per year in revenue for the state.  It also has 20 bipartisan co-sponsors.

He told the panel he made several changes to the original bill, which was first presented to the committee last week, for discussion only.  They include:

Rep. Adam Koenig, R-Erlanger, testifies for the sports wagering bill that he is sponsoring. He passed through the committee 14-0 and now heads to the House floor. (Photo by Tom Latek, Kentucky Today)

• Sports bets could be taken on in-state events.

• Bets can be on actions within the game, such as the results of a punt or field goal attempt.

• The initial licensing fee for a sports betting operator is being lowered from $1 million to $500,000.

• Wagers made at thoroughbred tracks would have a half percent tax that goes to the Thoroughbred Development Fund, while bets at standardbred tracks would do the same to the Standardbred Development Fund.

The measure includes betting on sports contests, internet poker and fantasy sports contests.

Proceeds would go first to cover administrative costs, five percent to a problem gambling assistance fund, with the rest to help fund Kentucky’s public pension system, which has an unfunded liability of at least $43 billion.

When one committee member asked how much illegal internet gambling takes place in Kentucky, Koenig responded that while he didn’t have a number for the state, the American Gaming Association estimates that every year, Americans wager $150 billion illegally.

“In 1978, I did some legislation similar to this, and illegal gaming just in Jefferson County was $350 million a year,” said Rep. Tom Burch, D-Louisville. “So we’re not just talking about peanuts here.”

Before the vote, those in opposition to the bill were invited to come to the table and testify, but no one took the opportunity to present their case.

The committee approved the bill 14-0, with one member, Rep. Dennis Keane, D-Wilder, abstaining.  He had expressed concerns about the regulatory framework earlier.

The measure would make it legal for people in Kentucky to bet on sports, but they would have to do it in person at one of the state’s horse racing tracks or the Kentucky Speedway, which hosts a NASCAR race each year.

People in Kentucky could wager on college sports, but not games involving Kentucky schools including the University of Kentucky and University of Louisville.

The measure now heads to the House floor, where it faces a more uncertain future. As a revenue measure it takes 60 out of 100 votes to pass.  

“I think we have a pretty good chance,” Koenig told reporters after the meeting.  “There are a lot of folks in my party who believe in freedom, and there are a lot of people on the Democratic side who ran on finding funding first.  This fits everyone’s desire.”  

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