Next year was looking to be clear sailing for Kentucky to move the ball down the field on the matter of legalizing sports betting. Legalization would keep the Bluegrass State competitive with neighboring Tennessee, which has already given the legislative thumbs up and is expected to launch online/mobile sports in early 2020. However, a serious wrench might have just been thrown into Kentucky’s plans.
Tuesday’s gubernatorial vote in Kentucky went to Democrat Andy Beshear, the state Attorney General, but incumbent Gov. Matt Bevin, a Republican, is contesting the results. The legislature may end up getting involved in the outcome. Kentucky Senate President Robert Stivers, a Republican, has indicated that the Republican-controlled legislature could ultimately decide the race, according to a report from USA Today.
The legislature kicks off its 2020 session on Jan. 7, according to a state website. The adjournment sine die date is April 15. Kentucky’s legislative session is relatively short compared to other states.
It’s still a big “if” whether the House and Senate would undertake a review of the election results. Right now, Bevin is requesting the Kentucky Secretary of State to recanvass the votes.
— Secretary of State Alison L. Grimes (2012–2020) (@KySecofState) November 6, 2019
If the legislature does undertake a view of the results, a bitter partisan fight could ensue and perhaps bog down discussions on policy issues such as sports betting.
According to Ballotpedia, Republicans control 59 of the 100 seats in the House and 29 of 38 seats in the Senate. In 2019, under Kentucky rules, the sports betting bill needed 60 votes in the House to pass. In 2020, it needs 51. The 2019 legislation was sponsored by a Republican.
The threshold for passage is thus lowered, but sports betting legalization in Kentucky would still need some support from Democrats, as some faith-based conservative groups in the state are vehemently against gambling expansion.
Beshear is far more pro-gambling than Bevin, but the latter is open to sports betting legalization in Kentucky. The major difference is that Beshear wants Las Vegas-style casinos for Kentucky, while Bevin opposes them. He recently called Beshear’s plan for casino gambling a “pipe dream” — and the GOP-controlled legislature also recently said that a casino bill would be “dead on arrival.”
Kentucky may see sports betting legalization regardless of who is governor, but Beshear’s broader ambitions for a gambling industry plus a review of the election results could be most concerning for Kentuckians who want sports betting regulated as soon as possible.
It’s unclear how long a hypothetical election review by the legislature would take.
In an October debate pitting Beshear against Bevin, Beshear commented directly about sports betting in Tennessee, saying that the Volunteer State would be “eating [Kentucky’s] lunch.”
Geo-location data has already shown that sports bettors are willing to travel out of state to a rest stop or gas station and place a wager in a legal market. Kentuckians will soon heading across the southern border of the state into Tennessee to gamble on college and professional sports.
If Kentucky is unable to legalize sports betting in 2020, it will be of great benefit to Tennessee sportsbooks and Volunteer State coffers. Tennessee has a 20% tax on adjusted sports betting win.
Indiana launched online/mobile sports betting in early October, which is taking money out of Kentucky. The Hoosier State kicked off retail sports betting on Sept. 1.
Additionally, Ohio is moving its actively discussing sports betting and appears on a path toward legalization.
If Kentucky fails to act on the issue, its roughly 3.4 mm adult population will serve as a major feeder market for other states and many residents will continue betting on unregulated, offshore sites.