Kentuckians place first legal sports bets

Published 3:04 pm Thursday, September 7, 2023

A few minutes before 10 a.m. Thursday at Churchill Downs’ Aristides Lounge, Gov. Andy Beshear placed the first legal sports bet in Kentucky history.

Surrounded by cameras, state officials and several high-profile Louisville sports figures, Beshear made a three-way NCAA football parlay bet – over on wins for the University of Louisville and the University of Kentucky and under on wins for Duke University.

“It was exhilarating, it was fun, it was legal,” he said.

Beginning at 10 a.m. Sept. 7, all Kentuckians could make legal, in-person bets on sporting events from the NCAA to the NBA at nine facilities in the state.

How did we get here?

The fight to legalize sports betting was a long one. In 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court decriminalized sports betting, leaving the question of legalization to Congress, or if it didn’t act, the states.

For five years, Kentucky legislators, including former Rep. Adam Koenig, R-Erlanger, current Reps. Michael Meredith, R-Oakland, and Al Gentry, D-Louisville and most recently, Sen. Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, worked to create enough momentum for legalization.

There was strong moral opposition from many legislators and lobbying groups.

Rep. Josh Calloway, R-Irvington, was one. During the final House vote, he called the move an “irresponsible way to drive revenue in our state” considering the possibility of gambling addiction.

Supporters argued that Kentuckians were already betting, whether by crossing state lines to six border states that already had legal betting or through illegal methods like offshore bookies.

This would keep that revenue in Kentucky, and allow for closer oversight in cases of problem gambling, they argued.

Meredith added that sports betting was extremely popular, with a 2022 poll finding that 74% of Kentuckians were in favor.

The supporters finally won the battle on the last day of the 2023 legislative session when the bill passed along the narrowest of vote margins.

Gentry said he thinks the upcoming governor’s election helped get the needed votes.

“To be honest with you, I’ve really thought that we’ve always had the votes,” he said. “It was just convincing majority leadership that it was high priority enough to bring it to the floor for a vote.”

What will this do for Kentucky?

Churchill Downs President Mike Anderson said that while Kentucky was the 37th jurisdiction to legalize sports betting, it was one of the fastest to implement it, right in time for the NFL season kickoff.

“No longer do you or your friends have to drive across that bridge, cross state lines, pull into that first Thornton’s gas station that you see, make your wager and then drive back across the bridge,” Anderson said.

Beshear also spoke about how this would directly benefit Kentuckians.

“We’ve already had gambling in Kentucky. We have for a long time. By bringing this type of betting into a legal system helps us properly regulate it, look out for folks who we need provide some help to who otherwise wouldn’t get that help,” he said.

“… We’re keeping our revenue right here.”

Where will the money go?

This partial year, the Legislative Research Commission estimated that sports betting would bring in $10.9 million. But upon full implementation, the state expects to gain $23 million in annual revenue.

Those dollars will go first to oversight of betting, then to a problem gaming assistance fund and finally to Kentucky’s pension fund.

Beshear has said that will free up dollars that would go to the pension fund for other needs, like paving roads.

He added that local facilities are economic drivers for their region, which is an added benefit.

So, where can I place in-person bets?

So far, the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission has approved nine temporary licenses for in-person betting.

They include:

  • Churchill Downs, Louisville;
  • Derby City Gaming, Louisville;
  • Ellis Park, Henderson;
  • The Mint Gaming Hall Cumberland Run, Corbin;
  • The Mint Gaming Hall Cumberland, Williamsburg;
  • Newport Racing and Gaming, Newport;
  • Oak Grove Gaming and Racing, Oak Grove;
  • The Red Mile, Lexington; and
  • Turfway Park, Florence.

Mobile gaming will launch Sept. 28, but pre-registration through the applicable phone apps has already begun.