Sports betting bill clears first hurdle

Mark Payne
Mark Payne
Mark Payne is the government and politics reporter for LINK nky. Email him at [email protected]

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The sponsor of Kentucky’s new sports betting bill thinks that this is the year for the legislation to finally pass after it cleared its first hurdle Wednesday. 

House Bill 551 passed the House Licensing and Occupations Committee unanimously. The bill had one reading, and Rep. Michael Meredith (R-Oakland) thinks the House could take up the bill early next week. 

“We’ve got the notes on the floor,” Meredith said. “I feel very confident about where we’re at in the house right now.” 

The bill presented Wednesday slightly changed from its original version, with users no longer needing to register their account in person. 

“I think if you look at what the national model is showing us right now, everybody has moved away from in-person registration,” Meredith said. “It’s not necessary with the technology that we have today.” 

The new bill also clarifies the Horse Racing Commission’s Regulatory Authority and Structure, allowing the tracks to be the main licensees but also allowing them to contract with three sports wagering companies instead of it being just one like in previous bills.

Tax rates will also be the same — 9.75% on in-person bets and 14.25% on mobile and online bets, which were included in last year’s House Bill 606. 

Last year, former NKY Rep. Adam Koenig sponsored a similar bill that died in the Senate on the final day of the legislative session. 

The bill was given some last-minute life before the veto period, but it faced its first hurdle in the Senate Licensing and Occupations (L&O) Committee after the period. 

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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.

After the bill seemed unlikely to pass in the L&O committee, it was moved to the Senate Economic Development Committee. Another northern Kentuckian and former legislator, Sen. Wil Schroder (R-Wilder), also chaired this committee. 

Asked whether he would consider the bill in 2023, Schickel said, “don’t know.” 

Meredith said Wednesday that the bill would most likely be assigned to L&O again, but he isn’t sure how Schickel feels about the bill. He also said he’s been working with Sen. Thayer on the bill, and they would figure it out once it makes it out of the house. 

“We haven’t talked about exactly where the committee might go on it, but I assume it would go to licensing and occupations,” Meredith said.

While Meredith is unsure of the Senate’s committee assignment for the bill, he expects to have enough votes in the Senate — because it’s a “tax” bill, they’ll need 23 of 38 votes in the Senate and 60 of 100 in the House. 

Another potential hang-up for the bill is those with moral or religious convictions against gambling. David Walls, executive director for the Family Foundation — a Christian organization that lobbies the legislature to follow “biblical values” — testified to the committee. 

“This type of predatory gambling is designed to prey on humans, with the government colluding with gambling interests to exploit our Kentuckians,” Walls said. 

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Further, he said that the bill would particularly influence children and normalize gambling for sports. 

“Leading kids to believe that gambling is central to playing and watching sports,” Walls said. “Studies have indicated that children, no matter what steps are taken, they will gain access to sports gambling apps on their phones and devices in states where sports betting is legal.” 

Meredith said religious or moral convictions aren’t necessarily sticking points, but he wouldn’t debate their convictions. 

“I can’t debate their moral objections or their religious convictions,” Meredith said. “But the reality is, we know there’s a ton of this activity already going on in the state, and there’s a ton of residents who are just crossing the border to place their bets.” 

One common point amongst pro-sports betting advocates is that the Commonwealth is losing out to Kentuckians crossing the river to place bets. Meredith said he expects that if Kentucky were to legalize sports betting, it would generate an extra $23 million annually in revenue. 

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