No Fooling: Kentucky Sports Bill Officially Dead As Of April 1

Posted on April 2, 2020 - Last Updated on April 16, 2020

Legal sportsbook operators won’t be singing “My Old Kentucky Home” any time soon, and that’s good news for the same in Tennessee (when they launch, of course). A Kentucky sports betting bill is dead.

Two factors led to the death of H 137. Those were dissent in the ranks of the state’s controlling Republican Party and the necessary prioritization of more important matters amidst the coronavirus pandemic.

The demise of the Kentucky sports betting bill

Earlier this year, things looked as rosy for H 137 as the typical cavalcade of flowers at the Kentucky Derby each year. Everything unraveled quite quickly, however.

The bill’s sponsor, GOP Rep. Adam Koenig, was adamant he had more than enough votes to get the bill through the House. The House Committee that Koenig sits on passed his bill unanimously.

Newly elected Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear campaigned on expanding legal gambling in the state and hasn’t changed his tune whatsoever on the issue. The KY Senate seemed to be the only obstacle. That concern subsided, however, when GOP Sen. Majority Leader Damon Thayer announced his support for the bill.

Enter the lobbyists.

Anti-gambling interest from the Family Foundation of Kentucky used their political sway to block Koenig’s bill from seeing a vote on the full House floor. Then the legislature cut Koenig’s negotiating time short.

The legislative session ended on April 1, 10 days earlier than originally scheduled, because of the coronavirus pandemic. To clear the way for the House to work on the state budget during its final days, House leaders sent H 137 back to the committee.

Because of the failure to move the bill, the Bluegrass State may be without legal sports betting for the next two years. While that would give plenty of time for sportsbooks in Tennessee to enjoy traffic crossing the border, there is some hope for enactment next year.

Still hope for sportsbooks in 2021

KY’s legislative calendar changes drastically between even and odd years. For example, sessions in odd-numbered years last only 30 days, and to pass, the bill will need at least 60 votes.

Koenig is still optimistic he can get that amount of support if his bill actually comes up for a vote. He also expressed optimism that some of the members of his party who are blocking that vote may be out of office by the next session.

Beshear may prove to be Koenig’s strongest ally on this matter yet this year. Kentucky’s Constitution allows the governor to call for a special session of the legislature and set the agenda. Beshear may do that because of the legislature cutting its regular session short. There’s no telling when Beshear might schedule such a session for right now, however.

There’s also no guarantee that gambling expansion would be part of the agenda for such a session either. It may not prove high enough of a priority.

For interested parties in TN, this is all good news. Not only does it increase the chances of legal sportsbooks in Tennessee coercing Kentuckians to cross the border and place wagers, but it also gives TN more time to roll out those sportsbooks.

The coronavirus pandemic has delayed activity on that front in TN, just like it has in KY for now. But with Kentucky sports betting efforts thwarted, there is one less thing Tennessee regulators have to worry about beating them to market.

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Derek Helling

Derek Helling is a lead writer for PlayUSA and the manager of BetHer. He is a 2013 graduate of the University of Iowa and covers the intersections of sports with business and the law.

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