Kentucky moved closer to legalizing sports betting after the state’s House Licensing, Occupations and Administrative Regulations Committee approved a bill that was introduced earlier this month.
Proponents of House Bill 175, sponsored by state Rep. Adam Koenig, say it would provide tens of millions of dollars annually to help bolster the state’s struggling pension funds. According to Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin, the state’s public pension systems are the “worst funded in the nation,” with an unfunded liability as high as $84 billion.
The proposed legislation would allow gambling on sports at the state’s horse racetracks, auto racing at the Kentucky Speedway, and through mobile applications.
In November, Kentucky Attorney General Andy Beshear called on state lawmakers to pass legislation to legalize gambling to create a dedicated source of revenue to support the state’s pension funds. Beshear cited a report from the American Gaming Association that said the commercial gaming industry brought in more than $40 billion in gaming revenue from 24 states in 2017, and that those states received over $9 billion in revenue from commercial gaming taxes alone.
In 2018, the state passed a two-year spending plan that requires at least 60 votes from the 100-seat House of Representatives to pass any bill, that raises and spends money, such as House Bill 175. It is for this reason that Koenig said he wasn’t sure if there would be enough votes to pass the bill, according to the Associated Press.
Although the bill had overwhelming support in the House Licensing and Administrative Regulations Committee, where it didn’t have a single “no” vote, it does have some strong opposition within the state.
The Family Foundation, a Kentucky-based nonprofit organization that advocates for conservative legislation, said the bill was unconstitutional, and that expanded gambling within the state would be bad for Kentucky families and have a corrupting influence on its government.
“Gambling does not create any new wealth, it merely makes wealth change hands,” said the foundation in a statement.”
The group also objected to the increased influence the gambling industry would have on the state’s lawmakers.
“With millions going into the hands of the gambling industry, they will become the greatest contributor to and most influential group in the political process,” said the foundation. “This would open the door for the will of the gambling industry to direct our legislature, rather than the will of the people.”