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Kentucky lawmaker sets sight on making sports betting legal, files 4 bills to make it happen

By Munashe Kwangwari

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    FRANKFORT, Kentucky (WLKY) — In a state where sports are the talk of each town, making money on them is still illegal.

“As far as neighboring states,” said Rep. Adam Koenig (R-Erlanger). “Every state has legalized it except for Missouri.”

Koenig is looking to change that. On Monday, four bills related to sports gaming hit the house floor, and he filed three of them.

The first, HB 606, is a standard sports gambling bill. It’ll allow Kentuckians to place sports bets from their phones, or in person in the state. Right now if you want to place a sports bet, you have to make it on the other side of the KY border.

“For the states that have legalized it, especially for the Republican states, this is freedom,” said Koenig. “This is government getting out of the way.”

The second, HB 607, is a pari-mutuel modernization bill.

Right now if you place a pari-mutuel bet, you get taxed differently depending on how you make it (phone, counter, etc.). The bill makes it so that the taxes are the same. It also aims to make the horse racing commission “self-sufficient” by reducing the money the assembly gives to it annually.

The third bill, HB 608, was not filed by Koenig, it was filed by rep. Killian Timoney, (R-Lexington). It’s being called a ‘Gray Machine bill’. (Gray machines are slot machine-like appliances that are most likely located in convenience stores).

Under the proposed bill, ‘gray machines’ will be prohibited unless specifically allowed by the Kentucky Lottery, Kentucky Horse Racing Commission or Department of Charitable Gaming.

For the most part, these bills resemble a number of previous bills Koenig has been filing since 2019. All of those failed, but Koenig said it will likely be a different story this year. In part due to the problem gaming component.

Due to a settlement last year from the poker stars lawsuit, the assembly got $225 million injected into its general fund.

The fourth bill filed, HB 609, would use money to create a program that addresses problem gaming.

“It’s high time that that happened,” said Michael Stone, the executive director of the Kentucky Council on Problem Gaming. “We’ve been advocating for that for nearly 20 years.”

Stone said he neither supports nor opposes the bills, but said gambling is becoming more prevalent. He said this bill, unlike any others, addresses the needs that will come because of it.

“It’s time to recognize that it’s affecting thousands upon thousands of Kentuckians,” Stone said.

Although all 4 bills were filed separately, they’re being wrapped up into one complete bill called House Bill 610 (the fifth bill filed).

Koenig said given the success of last year’s Historical Horse Racing Vill he expects these to pass.

“I don’t think it’s an issue anymore,” Koenig said. “We conducted a poll and more than 60% of people in the state are in favor of it. Hopefully, that resonates with many of our members.”

Kentucky nonprofit, the Family Foundation has been fighting attempts to expand gambling in the state for years.

They argue it’s unconstitutional and will take money from the poorest Kentuckians and give it to the gambling industry.

“The sponsors of these bills keep ignoring constitutional restrictions on gambling and trying to pass a regular statutory law. that’s not going to fly,” Family Foundation.

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