Kentucky Citizens Support Legalizing Sports Betting, But GOP-Controlled Legislature Is Hesitant

Posted on March 19, 2020 - Last Updated on April 16, 2020

If Kentucky legislators are unsure whether their constituents are likely to support gambling expansion in their state, they should wonder no more. A recent sports betting survey of Kentuckians answers that question.

Popular support may not be what ultimately decides this issue, however. The idea has split Kentucky’s GOP-led legislature.

What the Kentucky sports betting survey revealed

Kentucky Sports Betting Now employed Public Opinion Strategies to conduct a study on this matter. The findings were conclusive in the right context.

500 Kentuckians responded to the survey. The overall results showed 2/3 of the respondents support legalizing sports betting.

Because of that high percentage, it’s tempting to say Kentuckians support legalization broadly. There is important context to take into account, however.

Five hundred people is a very small percentage of the state’s overall population, for example. It’s less than two ten-thousands of one percent to be exact.

Additionally, since Public Opinion Strategies is most often employed by KY’s Republicans, most of the respondents were likely of similar ideological persuasions. The report does state 62% of Republicans support legalization but does not give a breakdown on any demographic lines.

The findings also state that when presented with the condition that 95% of tax revenues support public pension funds, support rose to 74%. Independent voters showed the strongest support at 71%.

Because of the small sample size, it’s uncertain how much weight KY legislators will give this study. Dissent isn’t based on whether voters support legalization.

What’s the holdup in the KY Legislature right now?

The issue lies entirely within the GOP caucus. The ultra-conservative faction opposes any expansion of legal gambling on ideological grounds.

Currently, that faction is strong enough to gum up the works. KY Rep. Adam Koenig, the GOP sponsor of HB 137, verbalized his pessimism.

“It may not be dead, but it’s on life support,” Koenig said. Last week, the bill was sent back to another committee, and a version of the state budget does not include any revenue from a sports betting tax.

HB 137 passed through a different committee unanimously earlier this year, but since then, the KY House leaders refused to schedule a vote on the bill. It’s unclear exactly what might get the wheels turning right now.

If the bill can clear the hurdles in the legislature, it could become law very quickly. KY Gov. Andy Beshear openly supports legalization.

The work of advocacy groups like Kentucky Sports Betting Now might prove pivotal in the future. Although the prospects look bad now, the landscape might appear quite changed in the future.

What KY sports betting proponents can do now

Proponents of sports betting legalization can look to Tennessee for inspiration. If legalization can happen in the Volunteer State, it should give hope to KY.

Unlike in KY, pari-mutuel betting is not expressly legal in TN. The only form of legal gambling in TN prior to the legalization of sports betting was the state lottery.

Furthermore, TN’s governor was ideologically opposed to legalization, unlike Beshear. While TN Gov. Bill Lee did not veto the bill that reached his desk last year, he did not sign it into law either.

For proponents in KY, the fact that there is already legal gambling in the state and the support of the governor’s mansion are powerful allies. It’s just a matter of convincing enough of the current GOP legislators who are hesitant to end their resistance.

It doesn’t look like that will happen this year, but with some more campaigning, 2021 may be possible. If the findings in the survey are representative of the state’s greater population, proponents should find broad support.

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Derek Helling

Derek Helling is a freelance journalist who resides in Chicago. 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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