Kentucky sports betting is off to a fast start.
Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear places a sports bet at Churchill Downs with assistance from President Mike Anderson on Sept. 7, 2023. Beshear says Kentucky sports betting is off to a great start. (Image: Louisville Courier Journal)
Sports betting is the state’s first significant expansion of gambling in decades — aside from the Kentucky General Assembly passing legislation to solidify the legality of historical horse racing (HHR) machines in 2021. In March, the Republican-dominated state legislature sent its sports betting bill to Gov. Andy Beshear (D), who quickly signed the gaming expansion measure into law.
After governing regulations were determined by the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission (KHRC), applications were reviewed, licenses were issued, and in-person sports betting commenced on Sept. 7. Online sportsbooks were cleared to begin accepting wagers on Sept. 28.
Beshear says sports betting interest has been high nationwide, the most robust since internet wagering began. The Democrat believes Kentucky will “significantly exceed” the state’s premarket annual tax benefit projection of $23 million.
It’s an incredible start, and if it continues, we will significantly exceed the $23 million in projected revenue from sports wagering,” Beshear said. “These tax dollars will support the oversight of sports wagering, establish a problem gambling fund, and primarily help our pension systems here in Kentucky.”
Kentucky sportsbook licenses cost $500,000. Gross sports betting revenue is taxed at 9.75% on bets taken in person. Online sportsbooks are taxed significantly higher at 14.25%.
Sports Betting Debut
Kentuckians aged 18 and older can bet in person at 13 retail sportsbook locations and online through seven online sportsbooks. The online platforms are bet365, BetMGM, Caesars Sportsbook, DraftKings, Fanatics, FanDuel, and ESPN Bet. Circa Sportsbook is readying its Kentucky launch in the coming weeks.
According to data from the KHRC, most of the state’s sports bets are being wagered online. That’s a familiar theme, as the vast majority of the handle- or the total amount of money wagered- in states with retail and online sports betting has been facilitated via the internet by remote bettors inside the state’s confines.
Since sports betting in Kentucky commenced in early September, sportsbooks have reported accepting more than $656 million in bets. Of that amount, less than $27 million was wagered at a brick-and-mortar sportsbook.
Both chambers of the Kentucky legislature have been controlled by Republicans since 2017, and the Senate has been red since 2000.
Conservative lawmakers have been unwilling to consider casino expansion efforts due to concerns that more gambling would negatively impact families with addiction, financial problems, and crime. Some of those same critics of gambling believe sports betting will also be a social ill.
However, Beshear countered those sports betting critics by saying that much of the state’s newly realized wagering was already occurring through offshore sportsbooks, local bookies, or in neighboring states.
“Remember, before we legalized sports betting, this money was going to other states or the betting was done illegally,” the governor said.
David Walls, executive director of The Family Foundation of Kentucky, which lobbies state lawmakers to support Biblical values, says sports betting is a “predatory” industry.
“This expansion of predatory gambling is a lose-lose for Kentuckians, especially for children and the vulnerable. Despite claims of economic benefit, government-sponsored gambling is a cancer on the economy which has historically cost at least three times more in social harms than benefits,” opined Walls.
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