Kentucky GOP Leaders Don’t Expect to Bring Up Sports Betting in Upcoming Session
Kentucky’s state lawmakers will gather in Frankfort on Tuesday for the start of this year’s 30-day legislative session. However, Republican leaders in both the House and Senate did not give great odds on the General Assembly passing a sports betting bill anytime soon.
State Senate President Robert Stivers and Speaker of the House David Osborne appeared on KET’s Kentucky Tonight to discuss the upcoming session. When the topic of sports betting came up neither sounded optimistic about its chances.
Stivers said Kentucky’s horse racing industry had more pressing issues to deal with besides pushing for a new form of gaming.
“I think the horse industry and individuals who are interested in the wellbeing of the horse industry need to focus on historic horse racing before they start thinking about sportsbook and gambling in that realm,” said Stivers, R-Manchester.
Last September, the state’s Supreme Court issued an opinion saying the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission overstepped its bounds a decade ago when it allowed tracks to offer historical horse racing. Historical horse racing, also known as HHR, is a slot-style game that bases its outcomes on the results of previously run races. Since 2011, thousands of the machines have popped up at tracks and satellite facilities across the state. Racing advocates say HHR has helped improve the quality of live racing by helping increase purses.
The court ruled unanimously that one HHR system did not meet the state’s standards for pari-mutuel betting because tracks must supply funds upfront to cover jackpots. The racetracks and KHRC have asked the court to reconsider its ruling.
Speaker: Sports Betting ‘Divisive’ Issue
Previous versions of the sports betting bill tied most of the licenses to the state’s racing venues. State Rep. Adam Koenig, R-Erlanger, has told Casino.org he plans to file a bill again this year.
Osborne, R-Prospect, was a co-sponsor of Koenig’s bill last year. That bill unanimously passed the House Licensing, Occupations, and Administrative Regulations Committee, which Koenig chairs. However, it never got a vote on the floor.
The speaker concurred with Stivers about the likelihood of addressing sports betting in the upcoming session, primarily because of HHR.
These are existing facilities that have invested hundreds of millions of dollars in Kentucky, and I think that because of that, it will probably take most of the focus initially away from sports betting,” Osborne said on KET. “That doesn’t mean that there’s not support for sports betting amongst the members of the House, amongst the members of our caucus. It remains a bit of a divisive issue, certainly. There’s ongoing interest in discussions about it, but I do believe it will take a back seat initially to historical horse racing.”
Take note of Osborne’s comments about the divisiveness. That was especially true among House Republicans last year. Some GOP members filed a series of amendments on the bill to stymie its chances.
Last year’s bill had 42 sponsors. However, 30 of those were Democrats, who sit as the minority party in the chamber. Of the Democratic sponsors, 10 were either voted out of office or did not run for re-election. Republicans won nine of those seats.
As Republicans now control 75 House seats, sports betting’s chances for success in Kentucky will likely require a majority of the majority voting for it. Then it would still need the Senate’s approval, where the GOP holds 30 out of the 38 seats.
Beshear: ‘Silly’ Sports Betting’s Not in Kentucky
After Kentucky Tonight, KET aired a pre-recorded interview with Gov. Andy Beshear where the topic of sports betting and expanded gaming also came up.
Beshear, a Democrat, ran on expanded gaming as part of his platform in the 2019 campaign. He said the right time for the state to pass sports betting was years ago after the US Supreme Court overturned PASPA and allowed states to decide for themselves whether to legalize it.
Once Virginia issues its sports betting licenses, five of Kentucky’s seven neighboring states will offer sports betting. Beshear noted many Kentuckians will drive across state lines to place wagers on their mobile devices.
“The fact that we haven’t done it at this point is not only silly but puts us at a competitive disadvantage,” he said.
When questioned about the tax dollars sports betting may generate, Beshear said if lawmakers want to raise more money, then they should legalize casinos. Six of Kentucky’s neighboring states currently offer or will do so in the near future. However, Beshear conceded that he will not likely include that in his budget proposal.
COVID, COVID, COVID
Even if the stars aligned for sports betting in Kentucky this year, timing may be an issue. Lawmakers can only meet for 30 days in odd-year sessions. And since they only passed an abbreviated budget last year as the onset of the COVID pandemic shortened the 2020 session, passing a fiscal year 2021-22 budget will be the top priority.
Republican lawmakers have also said they plan to address several of Beshear’s executive orders. They plan to propose changes to statutes that would give legislators more oversight on a governor’s authority during an emergency. Those bills will likely take up lawmakers’ time in the short session.
In addition, because COVID remains an issue, both leaders said they will shorten committee meetings for this session. That will give crews time to sanitize hearing rooms between meetings. However, that also means lawmakers will get less time to discuss bills. So, expect fewer pieces of legislation to make the floor.
So, 2021 may be a year for Kentucky’s sports betting proponents to lay the groundwork and build the foundation for passage in 2022, when lawmakers get 60 days to discuss legislation. Especially since 19 Republicans – more than a quarter of the caucus – will be starting their first term on Tuesday. Supporters can use the time to educate the new members on sports betting, get them on board, and push a bill to Beshear’s desk next year.
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