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Sports betting: Will it be legal?

Posted at 4:21 PM, Feb 06, 2020
and last updated 2020-02-06 18:36:37-05

FRANKFORT, Ky. (LEX 18) — Numbers show it's being done, just not legally. That means Kentucky isn't making any money off of sports betting.

"The American Gaming Association estimates that $2 billion is wagered on sports illegally in Kentucky every year," said Representative Adam Koenig, a republican lawmaker pushing a sports betting bill. "So that's happening. Are we going to put our heads in the sand and ignore it? Or are we going to set up a legal framework?"

Koenig is the lawmaker behind HB 137, a bill that would make sports betting legal in Kentucky. Currently, the bill has 39 lawmakers sponsoring it and Koenig says he has enough bipartisan support to pass it in the House. However, since the bill made it out of committee on January 15th, it hasn't been brought up for a full vote.

So, the governor held a press conference on Thursday - urging lawmakers to get it done.

"The time to act is now," said Gov. Beshear. "It's time to pass HB 137."

Beshear says many different groups, like teachers, business leaders, law enforcement, and retirees, support this bill. They say the bill would generate around $22 million in tax revenue to help pay for things like pensions. Others want the bill to pass because they believe Kentucky is missing out on tourism dollars to neighboring states which currently allow sports betting.

"I am tired of trailing other states," said Beshear. "It's time that we get into this game and we make sure we're keeping these dollars at home."

"Let's not be an island. Let's keep our entertainment and tourism dollars here," said Koenig. "Let's give grown adults the opportunity to make their own decisions."

However, not everyone is behind that idea.

The Family Foundation believes the bill is not legal. The group thinks in order to allow sports betting, Kentucky's Constitution would need to be changed.

"It's always been understood that the language in Section 226 of Kentucky's Constitution was a wide prohibition on gambling," said Martin Cothran of the Family Foundation.

The groups also says it's simply against the policy of gambling.

"If Kentuckians are losing money doing that and they are, the Kentucky government should be telling them 'don't do that because it's a bad thing,' just like Kentucky government will tell them 'don't drink and drive' or 'don't do drugs,'" said Kent Ostrander of the Family Foundation.