Churchill Downs Laying Groundwork For Kentucky Sports Betting?

Sports betting — or casino gaming, for that matter — isn’t yet legal in Kentucky, but an announcement by Churchill Downs last Thursday looks an awful lot like a plan to be ready should the state ever legalize.

The company, known for the Kentucky Derby at its racetrack and for the TwinSpires sports wagering platform, plans to open a historical horse racing parlor with 500 machines in downtown Louisville, according to the Associated Press. The company is aiming to open Derby City Gaming Downtown in early 2023 and says it will create 350 construction jobs and 100 permanent jobs. The 43,000-square-foot facility will be the second Derby City location in Louisville, home to the first leg of horse racing’s Triple Crown.

At least one lawmaker says legal HHR is really just gambling by another name.

“These are slot machines,” Morgan McGarvey was quoted as saying in the Louisville Courier-Journal. “Let’s call them what they are, tax them for what they are, and allow other forms of gaming so we can have actual casinos and bet on sports.”

Governor backs legal wagering

Some Kentucky lawmakers have been trying for several years to legalize sports betting, but the legislature seems to have little appetite for it. The push has created odd bedfellows, pairing Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear with Republican Rep. Adam Koenig, who has filed bills in each of the last three years.

Beshear in February 2020 wholeheartedly endorsed legal sports betting and told lawmakers “now is the time” to legalize, but Koenig’s bill that year died on the House floor after a group of his fellow Republicans filed 11 amendments that gummed up the works.

In 2021, multiple gaming bills were filed, but none moved out of committee during the 30-day session.

Kentucky’s neighbors embrace wagering

Of Kentucky’s seven border states, five have live, legal sports betting, including Tennessee, one of only two states in the nation to legalize digital-only sports betting. Of the seven, only Missouri and Ohio don’t have legal wagering, but legislatures in both states have been wrangling over the issue for several years.

Historical horse racing was legalized in Kentucky in the first half of 2021.

Historical horse racing allows bettors to use a slots-style machine to randomly bet on past horse races, and it has proved lucrative for the state’s horse racing industry, according to the Associated Press story.

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