Sports wagering bill likely dead for this session, says sponsor

Rep. Adam Koenig, R-Erlanger

The lead sponsor of legislation to legalize and regulate wagering on sporting events in Kentucky says his bill is now unlikely to pass in the current session of the General Assembly, but he is hopeful it will have a better chance at becoming law next year.

Rep. Adam Koenig, R-Erlanger, told Insider Louisville on Tuesday that House Bill 175 is likely dead for the session, despite its unanimous passage out of a House committee last month and bipartisan support.

“Nothing is really dead until midnight on the last day of session, but needing a supermajority of votes was too high a bar to get in a short time period,” said Koenig.

While a simple majority is needed to pass legislation in even-numbered years, bills that appropriate or raise revenue require a 60 percent vote in each chamber during the shorter non-budget sessions of odd-numbered years.

Spurred on by a Supreme Court of the United States ruling last May striking down the national ban on sports wagering, HB 175 would set up a regulatory framework for Kentucky residents to legally bet on sports, online poker and fantasy sports contests, with the state receiving revenue from new taxes, registration fees and licensing fees.

Under the bill, Kentuckians would be allowed to bet on sporting events at licensed horse tracks, where they could also download a mobile app on phones that could be used to bet on sports anywhere else in the state. Such wagering would fall under the jurisdiction of the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission — with tracks paying a $500,000 fee for a license — with wagering at those properties to be taxed at a rate of 10.25 percent and wagering on the app taxed at 14.25 percent.

While a study commissioned by the Keeneland horse racing track estimated that sports wagering alone would create at least $20 million in new annual tax revenue — with most dedicated toward paying the state’s underfunded pension systems — critics like the Family Foundation of Kentucky questioned if it would breed political corruption and prey on gambling addicts.

Gov. Matt Bevin also has publicly ridiculed the notion of paying for the state’s pension liabilities with revenue from either expanded gambling or marijuana, saying it would take hundreds of years for such revenue to raise what is needed while causing negative effects to society.

With 21 co-sponsors among both parties, Koenig indicated it was fair to say members of his own party put up most to the roadblocks to his bill this session, also lauding the work of Rep. Al Gentry, D-Louisville, to win support among the Democratic caucus.

Despite the probable setback this session, Koenig said, “I really like the chances” of a similar bill passing during next year’s session.

“We will regroup and reload with a better plan to win the hearts and minds of the public next year,” said Koenig. “We will only need a simple majority, and it will be a budget year where that $20-48 million will look a lot more important.”