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Kentucky Online Poker & Sports Betting Bill is Down to the Wire

Nashville, Tennessee downtown skyline at twilight. As the sun sets pink and blue, you see it reflected in the river as a boat drives down. The bridge connects the land full of trees and buldings. Nashville, Tennessee downtown skyline at twilight. As the sun sets pink and blue, you see it reflected in the river as a boat drives down. The bridge connects the land full of trees and buldings.
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Two weeks.

That’s how long proponents of expanded gaming in the Kentucky General Assembly have to convince skeptical state Senators to allow online poker and sports betting in KY — at least for this year’s legislative session.

[HB 606] is very much alive. Not saying it is going to pass, but I’m having active conversations with Senators and believe there is a path.Supporters caught a big break when a key lawmaker, Senate Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer (R-Georgetown), announced this week that he would have HB 606 read twice on the Senate floor before a 10-day veto recess began Thursday. Legislation must be read three times in each chamber before passage.

When the recess ends, the Senate will have exactly two days — April 13 and 14 — to act on any pending legislation before the General Assembly adjourns sine die. Whether HB 606 or its counterpart, HB 609, make the cut remains to be seen. Both bills had their first reading in the Senate on Tuesday and their second reading on Wednesday.

Getting two of the three Senate readings out of the way before the recess could prove pivotal, as it gives Thayer and the sponsor of both bills, Rep. Adam Koenig (R-Erlanger), time to drum up support.

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“[HB 606] is very much alive,” Koenig said on Twitter last Friday. “Not saying it is going to pass, but I’m having active conversations with Senators and believe there is a path.”

John Cox, Director of Public Affairs for the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, agreed.

“While narrow, there is still a path to legalizing sports betting in Kentucky in 2022,” Cox told pokerfuse on Wednesday. “We are committed to doing everything in our power to show legislators over the next two weeks that a majority of the Commonwealth wants to bet on basketball and football games the same way they can already bet on horse races.”

Seeking Senate Support

Although HB 606 had bipartisan support in the House — and will likely garner some in the Senate, too — many conservatives oppose the bill, which would allow seven horse racetracks in the state to offer online poker and have one skin for sports betting.

[Sportsbetting is] everywhere. It doesn’t matter what party the state is run by — Democrat or Republican. It’s a non-partisan issue.The Louisville Courier-Journal reported that Senate President Robert Stivers (R-Manchester), the highest-ranking member of the chamber, is opposed to HB 606. Stivers is also reportedly vexed that the state’s powerful horse racing industry is pushing for the bill’s passage since lawmakers had just agreed to expanded gaming last year — the General Assembly approved historical horse racing machines in February 2021.

“We don’t sense any desire on the part of state lawmakers to expand gambling in this state two years in a row,” Martin Cothran, spokesman for The Family Foundation, a conservative group that opposes the bill, said in a statement last month. “There is just no sentiment for getting into another ugly and divisive fight on gambling just a year after historic horse racing slot machines only barely made it through.”

HB 609, however, is likely to attract more support from conservatives. The bill calls for allocating $50 million from a $300 million settlement in a long-running legal battle with PokerStars to fund problem gambling initiatives.

Koenig has been trying to make inroads with the public. During a recent interview with WKYT-TV, he said that when lawmakers first suggested legalizing sports betting three years ago, the state estimated that it would generate $22.5 million annually in tax revenue.

“Given its popularity and the fact that that [estimate] was three years ago, it was probably extraordinarily conservative,” Koenig said. “We went from four years ago, where you could only bet on sports in Nevada, to now 33 states and the District of Columbia [where sports betting is] legal. Thirty of those US states have sportsbooks actively operating.

“It’s everywhere. It doesn’t matter what party the state is run by — Democrat or Republican. It’s a non-partisan issue.”

Committee Approvals Still Needed

The bills are still in committee and would need to win approval from those panels before a third reading and subsequent vote in the Senate.

HB 606 is before the Senate Committee on Licensing and Occupations, while HB 609 is under consideration by the Senate Committee on Appropriations and Revenue. Both committees met this week before the 10-day recess but neither was brought up for a vote.

Carla Montgomery, a spokeswoman for the Kentucky Legislative Research Commission, told US Gaming Review that she could not predict whether the committees would meet during the last two days of the session. If the committees don’t meet or don’t take any action, both pieces of legislation will die.

Democratic Governor Andy Beshear reportedly favors expanded gaming and would likely sign both bills if they reach his desk. He could also call a special session. Representatives for Beshear did not return messages seeking comment on whether he would call a special session.