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Kentucky sports betting bill: Damon Thayer says Senate could pass it
6th February, 11:33FRANKFORT -- A key Republican leader in the Kentucky Senate said Wednesday he believes that chamber has enough votes to pass a sports betting bill -- should it win approval in the House.
Senate Majority Leader Damon Thayer said he's been working to line up votes in the 38-member chamber for House Bill 137, sponsored by Rep. Adam Koenig, R-Erlanger.
"I think we've got the votes to pass it if it gets here anytime soon," said Thayer, R-Georgetown.
HB 137, projected to generate about $22.5 million a year in revenue, passed the House Licensing, Occupations and Administrative Regulations Committee on an 18-0 vote Jan. 15 but has yet to be called for a vote in the full House.
House Speaker David Osborne said Wednesday he couldn't say when the House might hold a vote on the bill, but "there's a lot of discussion going on on the bill" and the delay may be for Koenig to get as many votes as possible to get it approved by the 100-member House.
"It's his idea to get it out of here as strong as possible," Osborne said.
Koenig said Wednesday the news that the Senate may have the votes is "pretty exciting. It shows that there's plenty of support out there."
Koenig, Gov. Andy Beshear, state Chamber of Commerce CEO Ashli Watts and others are scheduled to attend a 1 p.m. press conference Thursday at the Capitol to rally support for the bill.
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"The opponents are trying to scare some people, saying the Senate wouldn't take it up, and clearly that's not looking like the case," Koenig said. "So I think that gets us a little bit closer to getting it passed out of the House."
The Family Foundation of Kentucky are among opponents to the bill.
But Koenig said he believes the bill has enough support to clear the House
"I think there's some folks who just need the time to talk to their constituents and get comfortable and know what they're doing before the time comes when we vote it out," he said.
The bill would set up a regulatory framework for residents to legally bet on sports -- in addition to playing online poker and fantasy sports contests.
Under the bill, the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission would regulate sports wagering, with only horse racing tracks and the Kentucky Speedway eligible to receive a license at an initial fee of $500,000 and annual renewal fee of $50,000.
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 higher 14.25% rate.
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Such tax revenue would go first toward the cost of regulating sports wagering, with 5% of the remaining funds directed to programs tackling gambling addiction and 95% deposited in a permanent fund to assist state payments for public pensions.
Twenty states have now legalized sports betting after a 2018 U.S. Supreme Court decision gave them the jurisdiction to do so. Koenig pointed out that Kentucky is "largely surrounded" by states that have already taken that step to tap into some of the estimated $150 billion of illegal sports wagering in the country each year.
Sports wagering is already legal in Indiana and West Virginia, has been legalized but is not yet in effect in Illinois and Tennessee, and is expected to be passed into law in Ohio this year, Koenig said.
Martin Cothran, with the Family Foundation, has said gambling would not only lead to negative "societal effects," but would violate the state constitution's prohibition of gambling outside of horse racing, charitable gaming and the state lottery.
Koenig countered that delegates at the Kentucky's 1890 constitutional convention specified that while betting on "games of chance" would be prohibited, betting on sporting events like baseball would be allowed, as they are "games of skill."
Meanwhile, Louisville Democrat Morgan McGarvey, the Senate's minority leader, filed a bill Wednesday to seek a change in the state Constitution to legalize all forms of permissible gaming, including casino gambling in Kentucky. The measure has little support in the legislature, but McGarvey said he's making a statement.
"I think we should stop watching carloads of cash go across our borders to fund other people's roads and school," McGarvey said.
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Thayer, who previously had pronounced casino gambling legislation dead on arrival, said McGarvey's bill has "absolutely no chance."
"Right now, I'm trying to focus on getting the votes for sports betting," Thayer said. "I'm trying to focus on something that's realistic."