Kentucky Rep. Adam Koenig Says Sports Betting An “Urban-Rural” Issue For The State

Posted on January 24, 2020

Kentucky sports betting got off to a fast start in the state. The bill to allow sportsbooks at Kentucky horse racing tracks and the Kentucky Speedway already sailed through committee with a unanimous vote. The next step is to get through the House.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Adam Koenig, is confident about the bill’s chances in the House, but the Senate is a more difficult task.

When speaking with the hosts of Kentucky Sports Radio this week, Koenig acknowledged that, in many ways, sports betting is an issue that divides along urban and rural lines.

“This is an urban-rural issue. The folks in the urban areas and the Golden Triangle, there are very very very few legislators who aren’t for this,” he explained.

KY sportsbooks very popular in state’s Golden Triangle

The Golden Triangle Koenig references is the area between Lexington, KY, Louisville, KY, and Cincinnati, OH. Those are the three urban centers of the state. The area within the triangle formed by these three cities is a relatively metro population. In turn, the residents eagerly support things like gambling expansion.

It is rural lawmakers in more impoverished areas of the state that have concerns about expanding gambling in the Bluegrass State. These areas are both more impoverished and, in general, more conservative. Resultingly, the population and the lawmakers that represent them tend to oppose things like gambling expansion.

Koenig acknowledged to KSR that part of the reason the bill only allows existing horse racing tracks and the Kentucky Speedway is to appease Eastern and Western Kentucky lawmakers.

In Koenig’s own words:

“When you’re making legislations, you’ve got to build coalitions and that is part of the coalition building. Also, the folks in the rural areas can, if they get pushback, say, ‘Hey, I’m not expanding it.’ It’s only going to be in the places where it is currently being done as well as the Speedway which, being in the Golden Triangle, really doesn’t hurt anybody’s feelings.”

In-person registration appeases rural lawmakers

What Koenig does not mention is that most horse racing tracks are also located in the metro areas of the state. There are not any major tracks in the eastern part of the state. Western Kentucky has a couple of notable facilities, like Kentucky Downs and Ellis Park, but most of the big names are in the Golden Triangle.

This is where the in-person registration requirement comes into play.

Not only are rural lawmakers not really expanding gambling. They are also greenlighting a system that actually makes it pretty difficult for their constituents to participate in sports betting. If Kentucky bettors have to go to the track to register, that drive could be up to two or three hours to do so.

One provision that did change from the initial bill does involve this in-person requirement. The bill initially had in-person registration as a permanent requirement. A new draft of the bill sunsets that requirement after 18 months.

Koenig commented on the other big change to his bill, which removed the ban on college sports betting.

That was in the bill last year, but the most common complaint I heard was that we want to be able to wager on UK, U of L, and the rest, so we’ve taken that restriction out,” he told KSR.

Koenig confident about House vote, but less so about the Senate

The next steps for the Kentucky sports betting bill are getting through the House and Senate. The good news is Koenig says Gov. Andy Beshear is already on board:

“I’ve met with the Governor and his staff. He’s an active participant. He’s been very supportive. He gave it a shout out during his State of the Commonwealth address last week, so yes, there’s no problem there.”

Koenig is also fairly confident about the bill’s chances in the House.  It is the Senate where he has more concerns. So much so, that even when talking about the House, his concerns about the Senate come to light.

“I like our chances in the house. At this point, we’re trying to maximize our votes,” Koenig explained. “We really need as many yeses as we can to get it down to the Senate and improve our chances there. When you have a budget year, it’s a whole lot easier to pass it when that $22.5 million can fill some holes.”

Call to Kentucky residents to support the cause

KSR’s Jones is already helping Koenig get the word out about sports betting in the Commonwealth. He is even using his gigantic social media platform to spread the word.

While Kentucky tries to rally support, Indiana sportsbooks might worry about the competition. However, given the in-person registration requirement, it seems like it will be a good two or three years before Kentucky tries to contend with its neighbors to the north.

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Jessica Welman

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