Kentucky sports betting finally crossed the finish line after an intense two-year race.

The Kentucky Senate approved Rep. Michael Meredith’s (R-19) sports betting bill,  HB 551, by a vote of 25-12. It needed a three-fifths majority to be approved.

The House of Representatives approved the comprehensive sports betting bill earlier this month. It now heads to Gov. Andy Beshear (D) for his signature to become law. If signed, which Beshear is expected to do, Kentucky will become the 37th state in the country to legalize sports betting.

Kentucky sports betting now likely a reality

Meredith’s bill will legalize 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.

His law gives the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission the regulatory power over sports betting in the state and the authority to award licenses. Tracks will pay an initial fee of $500,000 for a license and an annual renewal fee of $50,000 to the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission. Sports betting operators partnered with tracks will be required to pay a $50,000 fee for a license and an annual $10,000 renewal fee.

Meredith shared his confidence with Saturday Down South yesterday through email that he had the votes to pass his legislation.

“As of today (March 29), I feel like we have the votes to pass the bill and I look forward to the Senate calling a vote on it today or tomorrow,” he said.

This is the second year in a row a sports betting bill reached the Senate for approval. It was never voted on during the 2022 session or called to the floor for discussion.

Fiscal estimates show legalized sports betting could lead to $23 million annually for Kentucky, but those estimates are likely low, said Sen. Majority Leader Damon Thayer (R-17). 

“Mr. President, we are a sports-crazy state. We love our sports in the Commonwealth and people want to make a choice of their own free will to make a wager on a sports event like almost all of our surrounding states,” he said.

Constituents swayed votes

A common theme during discussion of the bill was the desire of Kentucky constituents to bet on sports in the Blue Grass State.

Discussing his decision to vote in favor of the bill, Sen. Brandon Smith (R-30) said it was not his personal preference to legalize sports betting, but the district he serves supports the issue and he supports his constituents.

“It’s my duty to carry out the wishes of the people I serve.”

Sen. Karen Berg (D-26) said it’s not her duty to tell her constituents what to do with their money, their bodies, or their decisions as a political leader in the state.

“I wasn’t elected to be the morality police. I wasn’t elected to be the person who has the power to tell my constituents what they can and can’t do.”

Kentucky sports betting bill details

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.