Kentucky legal sports betting to launch in September

Published 12:51 pm Wednesday, July 12, 2023

Gov. Andy Beshear talks to the press at Red Mile in Lexington, where the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission officially approved emergency regulations for sports betting at Kentucky’s tracks, on Monday.

Rep. Michael Meredith, R-Oakland, talks to the press at Red Mile in Lexington, where the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission officially approved emergency regulations for sports betting at Kentucky’s tracks, on Monday.

Sports fans may want to circle Sept. 7 and Sept. 28 on their calendars.

Monday afternoon, the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission unanimously approved emergency regulations for sports betting in the Commonwealth.

Kentuckians will be able to place in-person bets at brick and mortar tracks as early as Sept. 7. Mobile betting is not far behind, with a launch date of Sept. 28.

The question of whether to legalize sports wagering has been a controversial subject in Kentucky since the Supreme Court struck down a federal sports betting ban in 2018.

Then, the  Supreme Court left states to decide whether to legalize betting, and if so, to what extent.

In the final days of the 2023 General Assembly, Kentucky narrowly became the 37th state to legalize sports wagering.

House Bill 551 allowed the state’s established tracks to apply for sports wagering licenses and then contract with up to three sports betting service providers.

Tracks can participate in both retail sports betting at their brick-and-mortar establishments and mobile gaming.

HB551 passed by the fewest number of votes possible in the Senate and House before being signed into law by Gov. Andy Beshear.

“It took a three fifths majority in the legislature to pass this, but I had faith that we could do it,” said Rep. Michael Meredith, R-Oakland, the bill’s sponsor. “But we couldn’t have done it, again, without the bipartisan support of so so many.”

Meredith credited former Rep. Adam Koenig as the “godfather” of sports betting.

Koenig worked for years after the 2018 SCOTUS decision to legalize sports wagering, but it wasn’t until he left the legislature that it beat the odds to get across the finish line.

The law gave the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission regulatory oversight over licensing, operations and compliance.

The commission had six months to establish regulations from the day the law was signed. It managed to finish the job in less than four months.

Waqas Ahmed, deputy executive director of the HRC, said that the process involved consulting with other states that have already legalized sports wagering on best practices, reviewing submissions from industry stakeholders and consulting independent experts in the field.

He emphasized the commission’s “unflinching” commitment to ensuring minors are not able to place bets, as well as detecting any money laundering or suspicious transactions.

“To ensure that licensees maintain high standards, we have implemented measures to discourage false or misleading advertising or marketing practices,” Ahmed said.

“Furthermore, we have established a stringent system of disciplinary actions against licensees and their employees.”

Thursday, the HRC officially opened applications for tracks to get a license.

The commission will determine suitability of applicants based upon their regulatory compliance, financial capacity, public interest and criminal history, Ahmed said.

Gov. Beshear said he expects most, if not all, currently operating Kentucky tracks to be ready for bettors to place in-person wagers by Sept. 7.

There are 15 Kentucky facilities that are eligible to apply to be sports betting locations. They are:

  • Churchill Downs, Louisville;
  • Cumberland Run, coming soon to Corbin;
  • Derby City Gaming, Louisville’
  • Derby City Gaming, coming soon to downtown Louisville;
  • Ellis Park Owensboro, coming soon;
  • Ellis Park, Henderson;
  • Keeneland, Lexington;
  • Kentucky Downs, Franklin;
  • The Mint Gaming Hall, Bowling Green;
  • Newport Racing and Gaming, Newport;
  • Oak Grove Gaming and Racing, Oak Grove;
  • The Red Mile in Lexington;
  • Sandy’s Gaming and Racing, coming soon to Ashland; and
  • Turfway Park, Florence.

HRC staff will review the applications as they arrive, said Chairman Jonathan Rabinowitz.

The commission is currently hiring 14 people, including auditors, investigators and supervisors, to take on the increased workload.

“If we need more, we’ll get more,” Rabinowitz said. “The governor has gone out of his way to make sure we have all the staffing we need. I’m not worried about that.”

The HRC’s emergency regulations will last until the General Assembly meets again next year and holds a hearing on more permanent, regular regulations.

Beshear said that while he sees this as a “launch period” with a lot of room to learn, he doesn’t think the Commonwealth is moving too quickly. He said that he was confident that on Sept. 7 and Sept. 28, everything is going to work.

“I believe that we’re not inventing the wheel and thus we’re not reinventing it either. There are so many examples out there that have launched in these last couple of years,” he said.

“… I think we will be ready by that time but certainly as we learn, I want us to be willing to adapt to make this the most desirable state to come and spend those dollars and but also to protect everybody involved.”

Beshear said that he expects the first year to bring in about $23 million in additional revenue for Kentucky’s pensions, a figure that he said he expects to increase in the future.

He said the new industry will bring new jobs, growth and tourism. He credited the people of the Commonwealth for moving the needle on this issue.

“When that percentage of people want something like this, want to spend their entertainment dollars in this way, we can keep them in-state, even bring in a few others, that’s exactly what we’re supposed to do,” he said. “Carry out the will of the people of Kentucky.”