FRANKFORT, Ky. (LEX 18) — Kentucky lawmakers may have found a way to begin chipping away at the state’s 60 billion dollar pension shortfall. House Bill 137, which was voted on unanimously this morning during a committee meeting, will now head to the House floor.
“According to The American Gaming Association, 150 billion dollars is wagered illegally on sports every year,” said Representative Adam Koenig (R) from northern Kentucky’s 69th district. “Two billion of that is here in Kentucky. We need to make sure it’s legal, make sure it’s regulated and make sure it’s safe,” he continued.
But that’s not all they want.
“…keep some of that discretionary money in Kentucky,” Koenig said.
And that gets us to the root of the argument that’ll be made by proponents of the bill. Koenig estimates that legalizing sports gambling would generate more than 22 million dollars in additional tax revenue, of which 95 percent would go toward funding pensions. (The remaining five percent would be funneled to services that will help those who get hooked on gambling.)
While today’s vote was unanimous, it wasn’t all smooth sailing during the committee meeting. Martin Cothran from The Family Foundation of Kentucky offered testimony opposing the adoption of this legislation. Cothran feels such a bill requires an amendment to the Constitution. He also thinks it’ll open the door to so many potential problems.
“I think we already have problems with the lottery, in terms of where we’re getting (that) money from. We’re getting our (lottery) money from the lower income sector. This is not good,” he said.
Cothran said being able to wager on-line, as this new bill would allow, would make it even easier, and more problematic, while giving minors a way to gamble, which could prove challenging to regulate.
“You don’t even have to go to the local gas station, because you can just do it right on your phone,” he said.
But Koenig, and other proponents of the bill, will cite evidence that it is already being done that way. Legalized wagering offers the state, sports leagues and sportsbooks a way of monitoring anything that might appear to be somewhat less than above board.
“They’re not interested in seeing problems,” Koenig said. “They want to make sure everything is on the up and up.
In 2019, a similar bill died in the Kentucky legislature, but that came when Kentucky was being governed by Matt Bevin. Our newly elected governor threw his support behind HB-137 several times while campaigning, and then again during Tuesday night’s State of the Commonwealth Address. Unlike the 2019 bill, gamblers in Kentucky would be allowed to place bets on UK Football and Basketball games as part of this new bill. If the bill passes, Koenig feels both on-line and wagering at various locations across the state, including Kentucky Speedway, Churchill Downs and Red Mile in Lexington could begin in June. Account registration at one of those venues will be required until 2022, before you’d be able to place your first bet.
Koenig may or may not be a betting man himself, but he was willing to double down on the passage of HB 137.
“Oh, I know better than to predict things in this town,” Koenig deadpanned. “But I’m confident that we’ll pass it with a somewhat decent margin.”