FRANKFORT, Ky. (LEX 18) — In Kentucky, fans can bet on their favorite teams, but only figurately. They can't actually bet on their teams because sports betting is not legal in Kentucky.
Some lawmakers think that's a shame.
"Boy, between the Bengals and March Madness, we'd be good," said Republican Rep. Adam Koenig, a supporter of sports betting.
So, Koenig introduced House Bill 606 to legalize sports betting in Kentucky.
On Wednesday, the measure passed its first hurdle when it won initial bipartisan support during the House Licensing Committee.
The bill has more hurdles to clear in the fast-paced final days of the 2022 legislative session. Similar measures died in prior years, reflecting the divisiveness of gambling issues in the Bluegrass State.
But Koenig, sounded hopeful Wednesday that the outcome for the long-running effort to legalize sports wagering could be different this year.
“I think we’re in position, hopefully, to have better luck going forward,” he told the committee.
The bill cleared the House Committee on the 49th day of this year’s 60-day session. It still needs to win approval in the full House and in the Senate.
The measure would regulate an activity that already exists, Koenig said, pointing to estimates that millions of dollars are wagered illegally on sports every year in Kentucky.
“I think it’s important to bring those people out of the shadows, to dry up the black market,” he said.
"Out of the dark corners," he added. "Bring it into the light. Make sure that it's well regulated and done properly. And while you're at it, generate some revenue for the general fund."
The bill drew opposition from The Family Foundation, a conservative group opposed to expanded gambling. David Walls, the foundation’s executive director, said the sports wagering measure was an example of “bad government and bad policy.”
“This type of predatory gambling is designed to prey on human weakness, with the government colluding with the gambling industry to exploit our fellow Kentuckians,” he said.
Koenig argues legalized sports betting is about allowing adults to make adult decisions.
"I'm interested in getting government out of our lives," he said. "This frees up people to do something that's being done already. We already have the ills associated with gaming. Let's figure out how to give people the protection of their government."
So, Koenig hopes next year's big sports events look different in Kentucky.
"Make sure that next year, when UK and U of L are in the tournament and the Bengals are in the Super Bowl again, everyone in Kentucky can bet on them," he said.