Kentucky Prepares to Fight Again for Online Poker
It’s been happening for years. Kentucky has been trying to legalize online poker and sports betting for several years. Legislation gained more traction in 2022 than in years past, but it failed to find the support it needed to move forward.
Kentucky State Representative Adam Koenig had been the champion of legislation, but he lost his primary in 2022. But as he was packing up his office to leave before January 2023, it appears he passed the gambling torch to others who will continue the fight.
There is another bill, another chance for Kentucky to legalize online poker in 2023.
Kudos to Koenig
The efforts to legalize online poker and sports betting has been bipartisan.
It was Democratic Governor Andy Beshear who, in 2018, initially called on Kentucky lawmakers to legalize online poker, sports betting, and fantasy contests. It was a potential solution to the state pension deficit, and he knew the extra revenue could keep him from having to call for a tax increase. That request brought along State Representative Adam Koenig, a Republican, who was happy to introduce bills to that effect.
Koenig introduced legislation year after year to no avail. In 2022, he did it again. HB610 made its debut in late February 2022. Koenig worked with Democratic State Senator David Yates who introduced a companion bill – SB213 – in the other legislative body. It was a team effort.
In March, both bills received committee hearings. Koenig’s bill made it through several iterations of hearings, complete with amendments and changes. It became HB606 and went to the House floor for an actual vote, where it passed.
Statement from @damon_thayer, Republican majority leader in the Kentucky Senate on the House passing the sports betting bill.
Of the 38 senators, 30 are GOP'ers. pic.twitter.com/Qw5SELCl3F
— Steve Bittenbender (@BittGDCG) March 18, 2022
That House bill then went to the Senate. It went alongside HB607, which was a horse-racing-focused bill to make changes to that industry. That bill went on through and passed the House and Senate…while HB606 did not. That poker and sports betting bill remained stuck in committees. And then it died.
Kentucky Senate Majority Leader Damon Thayer said that the plethora of amendments had muddied the issue. His efforts met with too much resistance. At that time, he said the legislature would have more opportunities and better chances in 2023. “I think the advocates should be optimistic,” he noted. “Sports betting got further in the Kentucky General Assembly than ever. It’s always going to be very difficult because of the religious concerns, in rural areas especially. We just have to keep trying.”
Passing the Torch
Koenig lost his Republican primary in May 2022. He served out his term through 2022 and is no longer in the Kentucky legislature.
As he was leaving, several Democratic Representatives took up the banner. They introduced HB106 on January 5. Representative Derrick Graham served as the primary sponsor, with Reps Cherlynn Stevenson and Rachel Roberts signing on as cosponsors.
The bill has a general wagering description, but the 52-page bill gives more detail. While HB106 is dedicated to sports betting, fantasy sports, and online poker, it is the latter that we’ll focus on here.
New bill introduced that would legalize online poker and sports betting in Kentucky. Indiana is the state to watch for online poker and casino, but Kentucky is also in the conversation. https://t.co/xaDZgDJzEt
— Steve Ruddock (@SteveRuddock) January 6, 2023
The online poker component of HB106 will add a new section to the current gambling law that will specify the requirement of a license to operate online poker to people within the state of Kentucky.
They will be required to use geolocation software, which is used by state-regulated poker sites in places like New Jersey and Michigan. The legal age will be 18 for players. And gambling operators will need to pay an initial licensing fee of $250K, with an annual renewal fee of $10K. The gaming tax on net poker revenue will be 6.75%.
HB106 went to the Committee on Committees and awaits action there.
The key is to keep online poker in the bill if/when it moves through committees. Most lawmakers only see the potential for sports betting and want to sideline online poker because they think it’s straight-up gambling. Time will tell if this year is the one for another state to regulate online poker.
Just blacked out & had a vision of the future!
– Kentucky decides against allowing online poker because gambling is immoral, dangerous, and/or sinful.
— Phil Galfond (@PhilGalfond) January 6, 2023