Kentucky Online Poker and Sports Wagering Bill Advances to Senate

A bill that would bring online poker and sports gambling to Kentucky was passed by the House and will face scrutiny in the Senate Committee on Licensing and Occupations on Tuesday. 

Kentucky

Kentucky’s Senate will weigh the fate of online poker in the state on Tuesday. (Image: kentucky.gov)

Sponsored by Republican House member Adam Koenig (R-Erlanger), HB 606 would allow Kentucky’s seven horse tracks to open online poker and sportsbook skins, as well as retail sports betting facilities within a 60-mile radius of their tracks. 

This is the fourth time Koenig submitted a bill that would open his Commonwealth to online poker and sports betting. The Republican lawmaker has been trying to legalize online poker since 2019, but faces stiff resistance from his own caucus. This year’s bill only made it out of Kentucky’s House because voting rules change every other year.

Kentucky passes its budget every two years in even-numbered years. In these years, bills concerning revenue flow are approved with a simple majority. In odd-numbered years, bills require a supermajority of 60%. 

Koenig’s bill passed the 100-member House 58-30 on March 18. All 21 Democrats voted to advance it, with 37 Republicans joining them. Kentucky’s Senate is made up of 30 Republicans and eight Democrats, so unless at least 12 Republicans and all of the Democrats vote yes, online poker and sports betting will fail for the fourth time.

Another challenge to passing a party-splitting bill like this is Kentucky’s abbreviated legislative sessions. This year’s 60-day legislative session ends on April 14, and only four more regular session days are scheduled. Democratic Gov. Andy Brasher, who is in favor of online sports betting, can schedule a special session if needed.

After HB 606 is reviewed by the Senate Committee on Licensing and Occupations, lawmakers can debate the bill on the floor, and then vote on it. 

It’s possible that lawmakers could decide that the estimated $27 million in taxes that would be generated by online sports wagering is too good to pass up, but still don’t like the idea of online poker, and strip poker from the bill. 

If passed, an online poker license will cost the racetracks $250K. The sites will also have to pay $10K a year and 6.75% of their net poker revenue. A sportsbook licensing fee would cost $500K, with an annual fee of $50K.

Conservative doesn’t necessarily mean anti-gambling

A February poll commissioned by Kentucky Sports Betting Now, an organization with the self-proclaimed goal to “make sports betting safe, secure and legal in the great Commonwealth of Kentucky,” shows that a majority of both liberal and conservative Kentuckians support online sports wagering. 

  • Republicans: 58% support, 34% oppose 
  • Independents: 81% support, 10% oppose 
  • Democrats: 69% support, 22% oppose

Support also extends across the Republican spectrum:

  • Strong Republicans: 57% support, 35% oppose 
  • Soft Republicans: 60% support, 33% oppose 
  • Conservative Voters: 56% support, 35% oppose 
  • Trump ’20 Voters: 60% support, 30% oppose

The poll was conducted by Public Opinion Strategies, a political and public affairs research firm, which also found that 65% of Kentuckians support legalizing sports wagering.

The poll also claims 48% of Kentuckians say that they have placed a wager on a sporting event in the past, with 36% saying they have done so more than five times. Poker was not mentioned in the poll.

Problem gambling fund fueled by Flutter

The House also passed HB 609, which would create a five-member Kentucky Problem Gambling Assistance Board. This board would be in charge of a $50 million Problem Gambling Assistance Fund.

Koenig and Rep. Al Gentry (D-Louisville) are the sponsors. It passed the House 81-14. All no votes were made by Republicans. 

The $50 million will come from the $300 million settlement Kentucky received from PokerStars’ parent company, Flutter, for illegally operating in the 2000s.

Kentucky sued PokerStars using a law written in 1798 that allows a person who lost money gambling to go after triple the amount that was lost, if that amount was more than $5.

Although Flutter’s lawyers argued that Kentucky couldn’t sue for its residents, the courts disagreed and ordered Flutter to pay $1.3 billion, which was negotiated down to $300 million last year.

CardsChat covered the settlement back in September.

Written by
Bob Pajich
Bob Pajich is a poker news reporter, creative writer, and poker player who never met suited connectors he didn't like. If you liked what he is writing about, give him a follow on Twitter: @PondHockey2.

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