Kentucky Could Legalize Online Poker with Sports Betting
It can be difficult to follow. It can also be discouraging. Each year, lawmakers in various states introduce bills to legalize online poker within their states…and those bills die. Sometimes, they fade quietly into nonexistence. Other times, they start strong and fail miserably. And it’s even more difficult to follow when a state is working with numerous bills related to gambling. One moves, one absorbs the wording of another to create a more comprehensive bill, and yet another endures multiple hearings.
With that said, only one state came through all of that with a bill still standing. Kentucky is closer than ever to legalizing online poker than ever before.
Past Hopes Dashed
It has been frustrating to follow online poker and other gambling expansion efforts in Kentucky over the past several years. But it’s important to do a quick recap.
The most promising news out of Kentucky regarding online poker came in late 2018. Then-State Attorney General Andy Beshear faced a tremendous pension funding shortage. The state needed to find a way to pay for it without raising taxes. So, Beshear proposed that lawmakers draft a bill to expand gambling. In particular, he wanted lawmakers to consider casino games, sports betting, fantasy sports, and online poker.
By early 2020, Beshear was then the Kentucky Governor. That Democrat teamed up with Republican State Representative Adam Koenig to put their ideas to the public. At a press conference, they put their idea on the table, their proposal to legalize online poker, sports betting, and daily fantasy contests. The bipartisan team had some momentum and then…Covid.
Online poker and sports betting then gained no traction in 2021. Pandemic recovery was top of mind, and no one was prepared to deal with gambling expansion.
2022 Started Innocently Enough
There were many bills in 2022. Several dedicated their purposes to gambling expansion, taxes, and responsible gambling directives. However, there were two primary ones featuring online poker. Koenig handled the House bill again this year, introducing HB.609 with two Democratic co-sponsors. And State Senator David Yates (Democrat) introduced SB.213, a companion bill to the House one.
Yates put his bill forward on February 23. It moved to the Licensing & Occupations Committee two days later and stayed there. Koenig’s House bill went to the Committee on Committees on February 28, had a first reading about two weeks later, and settled into the Licensing, Occupations & Administrative Regulations Committee.
At first, the plan appeared to be to combine the House bills into HB.610. However, after some juggling and legislative wrangling, everything moved to HB.606.
Bill Baby Steps
That bill moved forward in mid-March through the Licensing, Occupations & Administrative Regulations Committee with some amendments. The main points of contention and reasons for amendments pertained to historic horse racing, pari-mutuel racing, and related excise taxes.
On March 21, the bill had a third reading of HB.606 on the Kentucky House floor. And it passed by a 66-to-29 vote. It went directly to the Senate Committee on Committees and then to the Licensing & Occupations Committee on the Senate side.
I’m stubborn and relentless. https://t.co/2ObYNn85Ln
— Adam Koenig (@repkoenig) March 29, 2022
The same process ensued in the Senate. The first reading happened on March 29. The horse-racing components of gambling expansion are in HB.607, which had been moving along with HB.606, went on ahead. On March 29, HB.607 passed the Senate by a 33-1-1 vote, went back to the House with changes, and it passed 67-to-27.
The problem, it seems, is with the sports betting and online poker bill.
Kentucky Senate Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer called the bill a longshot but not an impossibility. He said that the first Senate reading earlier this week indicated more promise. Another reading took place on March 30. Thayer told Sports Handle that the support can build toward a passing vote that could happen on April 13 or 14.
Why the delay for a vote? There must be a 10-day veto period that won’t end until April 12. That also gives supporters like Koenig the time to talk to Senators, explain the bill further, and try to drum up more support.
Kentucky residents could also call their Senators to urge support for the bill.
— John F. Cox (@CoxTalks) March 30, 2022
It seems that the fate of the bill will not be decided until April 13-14. The legislature adjourns for the session on April 15.
That will be a key week for the bill. No matter what happens, the public should know about it by April 15.