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Odds sports betting bill passes? Political consultant 'not hopeful'

Kentucky State Capitol
Posted at 9:56 PM, Apr 12, 2022

FRANKFORT, Ky. (LEX 18) — State lawmakers are bracing for a busy two days in Frankfort, as the General Assembly reconvenes for the end of the 2022 regular session.

The Republican-dominated legislature is expected to override many of Governor Andy Beshear's vetoes, but lawmakers could also vote on legislation that has not yet crossed the governor's desk. One of those measures could be House Bill 606, which would legalize sports betting in Kentucky.

Several organizations, including the Keeneland Association, Inc., have thrown their support behind the bill. An email from Keeneland urged people to call their state senators and ask them to support the bill.

"Sports wagering presents Kentucky with a unique opportunity to grow jobs, stay competitive with surrounding states, and generate needed revenue for our pension systems," the email read.

Tres Watson, a Republican political consultant and the founder of Capitol Reins PR, said he supports the legalization of sports betting in Kentucky but doubts it can pass the legislature this year.

"As much as I would love to put down some bets in the Major League Baseball season, I'm not hopeful," Watson said. "I think it's got a lot of hurdles to overcome."

House Bill 606 passed the House of Representatives in March by a vote of 58-30, but it has not yet reached the floor of the Senate for a vote.

The bill has garnered support from leading figures in the state Republican party, like Senate Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer.

"I've been for sports betting right from the start," Thayer told a gaggle of reporters last week. "A lot of my caucus members, especially from the rural areas, aren't for it."

Republican Senate President Robert Stivers, from Clay County, said he is "ambivalent" about the bill.

"I think this is less a Republican/Democrat issue," Watson explained. "But more of an urban/rural divide. And I don't even know if it has the votes to pass should it make it to the floor."

Opponents like the Family Foundation and Kentucky Baptist Convention have lobbied against any sports betting bill, arguing such a bill would be unconstitutional and would create "social harms."

Proponents like Thayer have pushed back on those arguments.

"Sports betting is just an extension of our history and tradition of betting on horses, which is a form of sports betting," Thayer said. "I don't think it's going to hurt society if people can make the choice of their own free will to walk into the Red Mile to bet on the Super Bowl, or the Masters, or the Final Four."

Governor Andy Beshear has also expressed support for the measure.

"Everybody else has [sports betting]," Beshear said, referring to other states in the region. "We don't see major problems coming from it. And those are just dollars going to other states."