Kentucky sports betting was signed into law by Gov. Andy Beshear (D) last week and one powerful Kentucky lawmaker believes it will be ready for launch by the upcoming football season.

Sen. Majority Leader Damon Thayer (R-17) told Saturday Down South it’s his belief, and the belief of Kentucky Horse Racing Commission Chairman Jonathan Rabinowitz, that retail sports betting is likely to begin in Kentucky by the upcoming collegiate football and NFL season.

Thayer said online sports betting is likely to begin later in 2023 and the “worst case scenario” will be an early January 2024 launch.

Kentucky sports betting by start of football?

Last week, Beshear signed Rep. Michael Meredith’s (R-19) sports betting bill, HB 551, into law, making Kentucky the 37th state to legalize sports betting.

The bill was approved by the Kentucky Senate by a vote of 25-12, eclipsing the necessary three-fifths majority to be approved.

Beginning June 28, the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission has six months to determine regulations and licensing processes for the state. Thayer told Saturday Down South that the commission can approve emergency rules and regulations to allow for retail sports betting to potentially launch by the start of the football season.

College football officially kicks off on Saturday, Aug. 26, 2023, and the NFL kicks off on Thursday, Sept. 7, 2023.

Thayer said he and Rabinowitz expect retail and online sports betting to both be live in 2023, but urged “patience” from Kentuckians. It’s uncharted waters for the Bluegrass State, but the ability to launch quickly is possible.

“I know the fan demand is enormous for this. We’ve all been waiting for this for years, but we want to make sure that we get this right in Kentucky,” Thayer said.

Kentucky is not starting from scratch, as its rich history of pari-mutuel betting and existing horse racing infrastructure can give it a leg up for a sports betting launch. Thayer said most tracks already have existing infrastructure for brick-and-mortar sportsbooks and the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission is eager to promulgate regulations to get the sports betting launch underway as quickly as possible.

Once the commission completes the regulations, the state’s nine racetracks can begin applying for sports betting licenses. The commission will have to review the license applications, award the applications, ensure that both retail and online sportsbooks reach regulatory compliance, and then give the green light to begin sports betting.

It is conceivable that retail sports betting could begin earlier in the state. Massachusetts most recently employed this strategy, launching retail sports betting at state casinos on Jan. 31, 2023, almost a month-and-a-half before launching online sports betting on March 10, 2023.

Sports betting bill details

Meredith’s bill legalizes retail sports betting at licensed Kentucky horse tracks, such as Churchill Downs, as well as online sports betting throughout the state. Each licensed horse track (of which there are nine in the state) will be eligible to partner with up to three online sports betting skins, allowing for a maximum of 27 operators in Kentucky.

The 27 maximum operators will allow for a mix of the more established online sports betting operators as well as smaller operators hoping to get into the market.

The bill sets the retail tax rate at 9.75% and the online sports betting tax rate at 14.25% on adjusted gross sports betting revenue.

Here are further details on the proposed bill:

  • Bets on professional sports, eSports, college events, Olympics, and amateur events will be allowed.
  • Residents age 18 and up will be able to participate.
  • 2.5% of sports betting revenue will be earmarked for a problem gaming fund.