How sports betting legislation died in the Kentucky Senate


House Bill 606, the bill that would legalize sports betting, died in the Senate on the last of the Kentucky 2022 General Assembly session. 

On Thursday morning, Rep. Adam Koenig (R-Erlanger) attempted to maneuver to get enough votes for the bill, but it ultimately failed. The bill was given some last-minute life before the veto period, but it faced its first hurdle in the Senate Licensing and Occupations Committee after the period. 

Chaired by Sen. John Schickel (R-Union), the L&O committee was where the bill was first assigned. It seemed unlikely that Schickel was going to support the bill. However, he has been a staunch supporter of the racing industry in Northern Kentucky. 

He declined to comment on this story but previously talked to Fort Thomas Matters, now part of LINK nky, that it wasn’t the place of legislators to shut down gambling. At the time, he was working on a bill to allow horse racing machines at horse tracks. 

“The potential societal harm from closed gambling parlors outweighs the potential harm from gambling,” Schickel said. “Is it really our role to tell poor people we need to protect them from themselves? I don’t think it is.”

After the bill seemed unlikely to pass in the L&O committee, it was moved to the Senate Economic Development Committee on Wednesday. This committee is also chaired by another Northern Kentuckian, Sen. Wil Schroder (R-Wilder). On Thursday morning, Schroder said the bill didn’t have enough votes. 

“I am willing to hear it at this time,” Schroder said. “We still don’t have the votes on the floor now or in committee.” 

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A few hours later, Sen. Morgan McGarvey (D-Louisville) said the bill had enough Democratic support and that if the Republicans weren’t bringing it to the floor, they didn’t have enough votes. 

“Bring it to the floor,” McGarvey said. “…if they’re holding off, it’s because they don’t have enough Republican votes.” 

The bill needed just 20 votes to pass of the 38 in the Senate. There are currently eight Democrats that would vote for the bill, leaving 12 Republicans needed to vote to pass the bill. However, the Senate is unlikely to bring the bill to the floor if it doesn’t have a Republican majority.

How Koenig Positioned the Bill During the VETO Period

As the legislature took some rest during the Governor’s veto period, Koenig was hard at work. He started calling and working on getting the votes for the bill so that way when the Senate and House convened for the last two days of the session, he would have the votes. He met with pro-gaming groups to work on how they would strategize to get the bill passed. 

“I’ve explained to everybody else about why it’s good policy and that from a political perspective, it’s wildly popular in the state,” Koenig said during the break. “…when you get to Republican voters, it goes wildly popular to just plain popular … the pushback from the rural members of the House that voted yes was next to nothing.”

He noted that legislators often got ‘thank yous’ for voting on the bill. Typically, when legislators don’t hear anything back, they know they’re doing the right stuff, Koenig said. But, to hear ‘thanks’ shows how popular the bill is, he said. 

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There are groups on both sides of the aisle when it comes to gaming in Kentucky. Groups like the Kentucky Chamber and the Convention and Visitor Bureaus are for the bill. 

“I don’t think it’s top-secret to say groups like the Convention and Visitors Bureaus across the state are engaged, telling their legislators that this is a good thing for tourism,” Koenig said, elaborating that it’s a good thing for the workforce, as young people who want to relocate to the state. 

But, religious foundation groups aren’t interested in bringing gambling to Kentucky. In February, the Kentucky Family Foundation stated that sports wagering is not constitutional in Kentucky and because of the societal harms. 

“We don’t think a sports betting bill will even make it through the first round of the legislative playoffs, much less pass both chambers of the legislature,” said Martin Cothran, the group’s spokesperson. “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.” 

The bill will now move to next year, where the make-up of the legislature could potentially move the bill in either direction. Koenig was optimistic over the break and said that most legislators realize at some point it is going to happen. 

“I think if you asked all 38 senators, 37 of them will probably say, yeah, I get that’s gonna happen one day,” Koenig said. “So, the question is, ‘is today the day or is today not the day.’” 

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Today, in Frankfort, it was not the day for sports betting legislation.