Kentucky to Consider Casinos and Online Poker in 2019
In previous lists of states most likely to consider legalizing online poker, Kentucky was omitted. Not only was it a state that feared any competition for its horse racing industry, Kentucky was at the center of a years-long battle with online gaming companies.
Then-Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear had been so incensed by online poker and casino operators accepting American customers in the mid-2000s that he obtained the court’s permission to seize more than 140 online gaming-related domains in 2008. That move instigated a long and costly court battle involving companies like PokerStars, ultimately resulting in a 2015 court ruling that ordered PokerStars to pay the Commonwealth of Kentucky more than $870 million on behalf of Kentucky residents who paid rake to the site between 2006 and 2011 in violation of the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA). PokerStars appealed that ruling, however, and the Kentucky Court of Appeals overruled that decision in December 2018.
Considering the state’s actions through the years, it was surprising that online poker came up in late 2018 as one of the possible solutions for revenue that could fix Kentucky’s pension problem. And it was even more astounding to see the person’s name on the letter of suggestion: State Attorney General Andy Beshear, the son of the former governor.
Online poker in Kentucky?!?!? https://t.co/g7czdfg1fw
— Dustin Gouker (@DustinGouker) February 6, 2019
Possible Pension Solutions
In late November of last year, Kentucky Attorney General Andy Beshear wrote a letter to the legislators of the state with a possible solution to escalating concerns about a public pension funding gap. Instead of raising taxes, he suggested that expanded gaming in Kentucky was the way to go. He wrote:
“The answer is simple – expanded gaming including casino, fantasy sports, and sports gaming, as well as preparing for the eventual legalization of online poker.”
He also noted with regard to sports betting, “We are missing out on our share of these revenues. We cannot afford to continue to make this mistake.”
Of course, it had been 10 years since the former governor seized online gambling domains. And it goes without saying that a father and son are not required to hold the same political positions. It was a strange turn of events, nonetheless.
AG Speaks, House Listens
Not everyone in the legislature was a fan of the idea, but some members of the House agreed with Beshear’s suggestion.
A number of gambling-related bills were introduced in the House this week, two of which will be of particular interest to poker players.
One is HB.175, “an act relating to wagering and making an appropriation therefor.” Essentially, it proposes to change the current laws to permit the regulation of fantasy sports contests, sports wagering, at race tracks, and online poker. As for online poker, it would be allowed for people in Kentucky aged 18 and over, and the Lottery Corporation would establish the regulations and handle all licensing.
The February 5 introduction was a bipartisan effort with 15 sponsors in total: Democratic Representatives Al Gentry, Kelly Flood, Dean Schamore, and John Sims Jr.; and Republican Representatives Adam Koenig, Myron Dossett, Matthew Koch, Derek Lewis, C. Ed Massey, Jerry Miller, Kimberly Poore Moser, Jason Nemes, Sal Santoro, Diane St. Onge, and Majority Whip Chad McCoy.
By the end of this week, it has been posted in the Licensing, Occupations, and Admin Regs Committee, of which Koenig is the chair and Koch the vice chair.
Excited to file HB 175 yesterday, which will allow legal sports betting, on-line poker and fantasy sports in Kentucky. It's time to provide the freedom for those who wish to engage in these activities to do so legally. Let's be ahead of the curve Kentucky!https://t.co/zfBRRiMmKF
— Adam Koenig (@repkoenig) February 6, 2019
The second bill of note to poker players is HB.190, “an act relating to the expansion of gaming and making an appropriation therefor.” The legislation intends to put the Lottery Corporation in charge of licensing and regulation for full-fledged casinos in Kentucky, as well as for limited casino gaming at the state’s horse tracks. The bill calls for the legalization of full casino gambling, which would presumably include table games, slots, live poker, and possibly sports betting.
Kentucky Representative and Democrat Dennis Keene is the sole sponsor of the casino bill, and he submitted the bill to the Appropriations and Revenue Committee.
There were also sports betting bills put forth, and the totality of the legislation seems to satisfy Beshear’s request for broad gambling expansion to produce revenue to boost the public pension program.
Time to bring this activity out of the shadows in Kentucky. https://t.co/RhGE0CBqbe
— Adam Koenig (@repkoenig) January 28, 2019
What are the Odds?
It is difficult to know how the gambling-related bills will proceed through committees, but the number of sponsors on HB.175 is a positive sign that it will pass out of its initial committee.
The support of Beshear is clearly influential, and it remains to be seen if his support will translate into action. It will also be interesting to see which members of the legislature may step up to express support or opposition to the bills. Much will be discovered through these processes in the coming months.