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Beshear pitches passage of sports betting bill for Kentucky
6th February, 22:38FRANKFORT -- Following Gov. Andy Beshear's press event with the leader of the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce and others to celebrate the potential benefits of legalized sports betting, the state Senate president dampened the enthusiasm.
Sen. Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, told The Courier Journal he wasn't sure the measure has enough support in his caucus to get a floor vote in the Senate.
This comes a day after Senate Majority Leader Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, told The Courier Journal the measure could pass the Senate in a floor vote. But the legislation -- House Bill 137 -- first has to pass out of the House.
Earlier, at the Capitol press conference, Beshear touted the possible financial benefits of legalized sports betting, saying it could generate about $22 million in annual tax revenue starting in its second year.
"Let's make sure that this time next year we haven't sent a whole bunch of Kentuckians across the river or to other states for their Super Bowl wagers," Beshear said.
Beshear even held up a winning ticket belonging to Lt. Gov. Jacqueline Coleman, who in September drove to Indiana to place a $5 bet on former University of Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson winning the National Football League MVP award, netting her $95.
Related: Majority leader: Senate likely to pass sports betting bill if House approves
Stivers, though, questioned whether HB 137 would bring in that kind of revenue, which Beshear has said would ease the state pension problem.
"Even if it generated $10 million in tax revenue, what does that do in the overall scope of, in essence, a $12 billion budget?" Stivers asked. "It's money, but it's not substantial. It's not going to cure any of our pension systems."
HB 137, sponsored by Rep. Adam Koenig, R-Erlanger, passed through a House committee by a unanimous vote three weeks ago but has yet to be called for a vote on the House floor.
This delay prompted concerns from supporters that socially conservative Republicans opposed to gambling were blocking its passage, an idea that Thayer's comments seemed to put to rest.
"I think we've got the votes to pass it if it gets here anytime soon," Thayer said Wednesday.
But again, Stivers has concerns.
Saying he remains "agnostic" on the idea, he questions why only state racetracks are allowed to have the betting licenses.
"... Why are we picking winners and losers?" he asked. "Why not open it up and let the market take its place?"
Stivers suggested that rather than racetracks, the legislation could allow the same number of licenses for each congressional district "to make it equitable across the board."
Breaking it down: Sports betting could be coming to Kentucky. Here's what to know
As filed, HB 137 would set up a regulatory framework for residents to legally bet on sports -- in addition to playing online poker and fantasy sports contests.
The proposed two-year budget Beshear unveiled last week assumed new tax revenue from the passage of HB 137, amounting to more than $14 million in the first year and $22.5 million in its second.
Beshear said that amount could pay for a 4% increase in funding to state postsecondary institutions or needs-based financial aid for 13,000 college students.
Koenig, who also attended the press conference, noted that nearly all states surrounding Kentucky now have legalized sports betting after a 2018 U.S. Supreme Court decision made it possible.
He said he trusts Kentuckians to act responsibly and does not think state government should interfere.
"Let's give grown adults the opportunity to make their own decisions," Koening said. "As a Ronald Reagan Republican, I believe in less government, more freedom and personal responsibility."
HB 137 would allow wagering on sporting events at licensed horse racing tracks and the Kentucky Speedway or on mobile phones, with most funds directed to pay down the state's pension obligations.
Wagering would be taxed at a 10.25% rate at those properties, where individuals could also download an app on their phones to wager online from anywhere, which would be taxed at a 14.25% rate.
The legislation is also supported by the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, Kentucky Education Association, Kentucky Government Retirees and most labor unions in the state.
More coverage: 5 takeaways from Beshear's two-year budget proposal
One opponent is the Family Foundation of Kentucky, which believes it would constitute an expansion of gambling that is prohibited under the state constitution.
Kent Ostrander, the executive director of the socially conservative organization, told reporters after the press conference that the group wouldn't rule out a lawsuit to block sports betting provisions from being implemented if HB 137 passed into law.
Asked whether he was still concerned about the chances of HB 137 not receiving a floor vote in each chamber -- even though he believes it could pass both chambers now -- Koenig said: "It's Frankfort. ... Nothing is for certain until midnight on day 60.
"It's day 21 and (Thayer) didn't have to say that, and I think he feels pretty confident if he went ahead and told that to the press."