Four legs? Okay. Two legs? Not okay.
That has been the modus operandi thus far with regards to sports betting in the state of Kentucky. With two of the most popular horse racing tracks in the world, Churchill Downs and Keeneland, you would think that sports betting legislation would be a breeze in Kentucky. It has been anything but.
Progress has been slow and bumpy. The Kentucky Horse Racing Commission would be given oversight with the most recent bill that is being discussed in the State Senate. Previously, the hold-up was that the governor was not a proponent of expanded gambling in Kentucky. When Andy Beshear won the vote in November, it was assumed that sports betting would have a much smoother road in 2020. To a degree, that is true, particularly because lawmakers are deliberating with the knowledge that any bill sent to Beshear’s desk is going to be approved.
Beshear and other Democrats in the state are fully on board with legalized sports betting. Bills under deliberation at this point in time do allow for college sports wagering, which is going to provide quite a financial windfall for the state during college basketball season with powerhouse programs like Louisville and Kentucky. Kentucky, as we know, does not have any professional sports teams, so NCAA wagering was pretty much a must.
One of the nice things about any legislation in Kentucky is that retail sports books are going to be quite spread out across the race tracks, including heavy population centers like Louisville, with Churchill Downs, and Lexington with Keeneland. It also looks like online poker would be part of the sports betting expansion.
Churchill Downs Inc. already owns and operates several casinos that have betting or will have betting soon, including Presque Isle Downs in Erie, Pennsylvania and Ocean Downs in Maryland. Presque Isle Downs is a BetAmerica Sportsbook, which could give us some sort of indication as to who will run the book at Churchill Downs. BetAmerica’s roots are deep in horse racing, but the operator has moved into sports betting in recent years as well.
It is entirely possible that Kentucky will expand sports betting to include bars and restaurants. Given that the state’s gambling roots are in horse racing, which is legal online across most of the country and legal at off-track betting facilities, Kentucky’s sports betting bill is likely to allow for wagering in a lot of contexts. Retail betting would obviously take place at approved locations, but online betting and mobile wagering are almost a lock as well.
The primary opposition appears to be religious in nature from several Republican Senators, but eventually the additional revenue to be pumped primarily into education is likely to outweigh the social and moral concerns.
In other words, expect sports betting to go live in Kentucky in either 2020 or 2021. The governor is already on board, so it is just a matter of getting through the state legislature. Because of the expanse of horse betting, Kentucky’s state constitution would not need to be amended via a public vote.
For right now, horse racing is the only sport that you can bet on in Kentucky. Sites like BetAmerica, TVG, and TwinSpires all take mobile and online wagers for horse racing. Otherwise, you’ll have to get your sports betting fix in border states.
Indiana, Illinois, and West Virginia have all legalized sports betting. Indiana and West Virginia already have mobile capabilities up and running and there has been a large handle in Indiana in locations that are close to cities like Louisville, where a short trip into the Hoosier State is all it takes to be able to bet on sports legally. The population in eastern Kentucky is much lower than that of western Kentucky, so there isn’t a huge push to go across the border and bet in West Virginia, but for a city like Ashland, that is an excellent opportunity.
Tennessee is going to be live in 2020 with an all-online betting setup. There are no physical gaming locations in Tennessee, but bettors will be able to place their wagers on mobile devices or online. Kentuckians would be able to sign up in the state of Tennessee and then place their bets when geolocation tracking confirms location in the state.
Basically, Kentucky has no choice but to move forward with betting. The potential loss of revenue from four border states with approved sports betting is too much to overlook. Eventually that will be the case for betting in a state like Ohio, which will be surrounded on all sides by states that have betting and even the province of Ontario to the north takes sports wagers.
Residents of Kentucky will have to be patient while discussions continue in the state Senate, but the state House and the governor are already on board, so that means that betting is coming sooner rather than later in the Bluegrass State.