Bill unveiled to legalize sports betting in Kentucky

Published 5:59 am Tuesday, March 1, 2022

Supporters of legalizing sports betting in Kentucky are taking another swing at passing the proposal — this time teaming it with a package of gambling-related measures.

Republican Rep. Adam Koenig said Monday that making sports wagering legal would allow Kentuckians to “do what they would like to do with their own money.”

The package unveiled Monday adds to the stack of issues facing Kentucky lawmakers in the final weeks of this year’s legislative session.

Similar sports wagering bills died in previous sessions, reflecting the divisiveness of gambling issues in the Bluegrass State.

Supporters of previous bills estimated that legalizing sports wagering would generate about $22 million in yearly revenue. They say the measure is needed to stop Kentuckians from flocking to neighboring states that allow sports betting.

The bill unveiled Monday seeks to legalize most forms of sports wagering and regulate the taxation of all online gambling, including fantasy sports and online poker. Legalizing sports betting would “take it away from the bookies and the off-shore accounts,” Koenig said.

Another proposal unveiled Monday would make changes to the tax structure on horse racing and pari-mutuel wagering. The measure proposes a 1.5% tax on all pari-mutuel wagers, including historical horse racing, simulcast bets and advance-deposit wagering.

Also in the package is a proposed ban on so-called “gray machines,” which look like slot machines and pay out cash prizes to successful players. The machines have proliferated in convenience stores across the state.

Koenig said he hopes to combine the multiple proposals in one sweeping measure. But if that strategy doesn’t work, he said he’ll try to pass as many of the individual proposals as possible.

Meanwhile, the House dealt with another long-running issue Monday, passing a bill to require future constables to receive professional law enforcement training before wielding police powers.

The measure, which cleared the House on a 59-38 vote, goes to the Senate next.

The bill would not apply to current constables.

It would require people assuming the role starting in 2023 to receive certification like other law enforcement officers before exercising such police powers as making traffic stops and arrests.

“Unfortunately, there’s been too many headlines to ignore the fact that constables without proper law enforcement training can be a serious problem,” said Koenig, the bill’s lead sponsor.

Opponents said the bill wouldn’t set aside enough training slots for future constables.

Republican Rep. Ryan Dotson said constables serve important roles in rural areas with understaffed law enforcement offices and large tracts of territory to police.

The House passed another bill that would make Juneteenth a state holiday. The measure, which passed the House 97-0, advances to the Senate.

Juneteenth commemorates June 19, 1865, when Union soldiers brought the news of freedom to enslaved Black people in Galveston, Texas, two months after the Confederacy had surrendered. It was about 2 1/2 years after the Emancipation Proclamation freed slaves in Southern states.

Democratic Rep. George Brown Jr., the bill’s lead sponsor, said Monday that Juneteenth “serves as a day of reflection and celebration.”

“It celebrates a crucial pivot point in our country — a new era when America came one step closer to embodying the words and ideals found in the Declaration of Independence,” he said. “Juneteenth is not just an important day for African-Americans. It is an important for all Americans.”

The bill would not give state workers a paid day off for Juneteenth, he said.