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Sports wagering bill clears House committee

A bill to legalize sports wagering and regulate online poker and fantasy sports operations in Kentucky is on its way to the House after receiving committee approval today.

House Licensing, Occupations, and Administrative Regulations Chair and House Bill 137 sponsor Rep. Adam Koenig, R-Erlanger, said the legislation—approved by Koenig’s committee this morning—is expected to help Kentucky recoup tens of millions of dollars in tax revenue it loses annually to legalized sports betting in surrounding states like Indiana, West Virginia, and Tennessee.

“I talked to an Ohio state senator over the weekend, and he believes they will be moving forward with passing (sports betting) probably this year,” said Koenig. “Obviously a lot of folks who see the revenue potential see the opportunity to allow folks to do something legally that they are currently doing illegally.”

Kentucky is expected to draw at least $22.5 million in new tax revenue annually under HB 137 should it become law, according to economist John Farris with Commonwealth Economics who testified alongside Koenig and fellow HB 137 sponsor Rep. Al Gentry, D-Louisville. Farris said an estimated $1.6 to $2 billion is illegally wagered on sports in Kentucky each year, equating to $140 million in illegal profit that is not currently taxed.

“Without sports wagering legislation, Kentucky will continue to lose this potential tax revenue generation to illegal operators,” Farris said.

Gentry called HB 137 “commonsense legislation,” adding that the bill “is not going to solve our challenges, we know that, but it is a good first step. It’s a first step to retain revenue.”

Koenig said the bill does include some changes from 2019 HB 175, similar legislation sponsored and successfully passed out of House committee by Koenig and Gentry last year. Unlike the 2019 proposal, HB 137 would allow wagering on in-state sports teams, among other changes.

Legislation similar to HB 137 has also been filed in the Senate. That bill, Senate Bill 24 filed by Sen. Julian M. Carroll, D-Frankfort, is now awaiting action in the Senate Licensing, Occupations, and Administrative Regulations Committee.