In this year’s Kentucky legislative session, sports betting has been a hot topic. House Bill 137 would legalize sports betting, online poker, and other fantasy gaming in the state.
HB 137 began by clearing House Committee by unanimous vote. It has since stalled and been sent back to committee. The move created some pessimism from bill sponsor Rep. Adam Koenig. Hopefully, a recent poll showing the overwhelming support from Kentuckians can effort a final push and inject some life into this bill.
Gov. Andy Beshear has shown his ongoing support for HB 137. A significant problem facing the state, and a main topic of the recent 2019 governor race, was the underfunded state pension system.
A new political advocacy group called Kentucky Sports Betting Now formed to support the movement of the bill. Groups like the Kentucky Education Association, Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, Greater Louisville Inc., and Commerce Lexington have endorsed the organization.
Sports Betting Now suggests this bill would provide $22.5 million in new revenue to support teachers and first responders, saving their pension without raising taxes.
People of Kentucky strongly support sports betting
Kentuckians are still betting on sports but have to cross state lines to do so. As surrounding states legalize sports betting, it only urges Kentucky to keep that revenue in the state. Currently, Kentuckians can cross the Ohio River and place bets at the casino or on their phone via Indiana online betting apps. The campaign by Kentucky Sports Betting Now suggests this money should go toward fixing the revenue problems facing Kentucky.
Public Opinion Strategies, a long-standing survey research firm, gained insights from 500 Kentucky registered voters on sports betting. The poll shows 66% of Kentuckians showed support for changing the law so sports betting could be allowed. This percentage grew to 74% when they were informed that the revenue was going toward fixing the state pension.
Dan Bayens, a spokesperson for Kentucky Sports Betting Now reacted to the impact of the survey:
“This poll shows that there is overwhelming support for sports betting in Kentucky, and it extends across party lines. We have made a lot of progress on the issue in a short amount of time. I believe 1000% that legal sports betting will happen in Kentucky and it will happen in the near future.”
More numbers from the sports betting poll
In addition to general information about sports betting support, the poll also offered data on how different political affiliations felt about the idea:
- Republicans: 62% support, 31% oppose
- Democrats: 69% support, 23% oppose
- Independents: 71% support, 25% oppose
With public support, why is the bill so contentious?
If this would solve the pension issue, why is it receiving so much resistance? The legislators against the measure argue against the expansion of gaming in the state. Many think the passing of this bill would only lead to casinos in Kentucky.
While another bill to potentially allow casinos in Kentucky could happen in the future, this bill would actually not create any new facilities. Sports betting would be allowed at horse racetracks, Kentucky Speedway, and through mobile apps.
The Kentucky legislature adjourned March 20 and plan to be out until the 26 because of the COVID-19 epidemic. The key focus when they return will be passing a budget, and Gov. Beshear’s proposal in January included the revenue from HB 137. However, the House Republican version of the budget did not.
There are key leaders still working on the sports betting bill down the stretch in this legislative session, even if it has seemed improbable at times.
As Rep. Koenig told the Courier-Journal:
“I will keep running it until they kick me out of this place, and I may not leave until it passes.”