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Kentucky Senate passes sports betting bill

Kentucky gambling news

The Kentucky Senate approved a bill to legalize sports betting in the state on Thursday evening, becoming the first in the U.S. to do so this year.

The committee voted 25-12 in favor of the measure, which needed a 23-vote count to pass, sending it off to Gov. Andy Beshear to sign. The vote was swift and decisive, concluding hours before the legislature adjourned. It caps the five-year movement led by former Rep. Adam Koenig to legalize the activity.

House Bill 551 has been steadily moving toward the Senate chamber since the House of Representatives voted 63-34 on March 13. If Beshear signs, 27 digital platforms with ties to nine horse racing tracks will be approved.

Beshear already expressed his support for the bill, tweeting a celebratory message concerning the approval on Thursday.

“After years of urging lawmakers to legalize sports betting, we finally did it! Today’s result shows that hard work pays off. Kentuckians will soon be able to place their bets here, and for the first time, we are going to keep those dollars to support our roads and bridges, schools and communities,” he wrote.

HB 551, which Rep. Michael Meredith sponsored, will legalize in-person wagering and provide each racing tract with a brick-and-mortar sportsbook. The bill requires the Kentucky Speedway and horse racing tracks to pay a levy to operate sports betting facilities on-site, licensed gaming websites, or mobile apps. Online wagers are taxed at 14.23%, while in-person betting on the tracks attracts a 9.75% excise tax.

The measure also allows betting in college and professional teams and the Olympics and esports. The Kentucky Horse Racing Commission will be assigned the role of the gaming regulator and the legal age for wagering was placed at 18. While this is unlike the conventional 21 years requirement across the U.S., it is in line with the legal age for placing bets on horse racing and lottery in the state.

A nearly identical bill advanced from the House last year; however, it died in the Senate. HB 551 seemed on the verge of having the same outcome until it was placed among the day’s agendas and reviewed 30 minutes later.

Although HB 551 was approved, it had its share of detractors, one of whom was Sen. Whitney Westerfield. He asked his peers to vote against the bill citing families who lacked basic necessities but went to other states to gamble.

“Let other states do it. I’m in one of those bordering counties … and I know people are going to Tennessee. Let ’em. If you bring it here, there will be more families doing it here,” Westerville said.

Other parties supporting the bill include Sen. Karen Berg and Sen. Brandon Smith, who voted against legal betting in past sessions but switched sides on Thursday.

The bill will allocate 2.5% of sports betting tax revenue to fund problem gambling and responsible gaming programs. According to Meredith, the state would gain around $23 million in tax revenue, providing approximately $575,000 for education and prevention initiatives and similar programs.

With Beshear’s signature on the bill, Kentucky joins its six border states to offer digital wagering. It will also become the 38th U.S. state to approve the activity.

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