Kentucky Budget Leaves Out Sports Betting

The state of Kentucky was looking to permit sports betting by the end of 2020, but that won’t be happening now.

After bettors in Kentucky got their hopes up with the election of pro-betting Democrat Governor Andy Beshear in November, legislation became derailed after state lawmakers passed a scaled-back, one-year budget that includes cash from a new tax on vaping, but casts aside proposals to increase revenue from sports betting and expand gambling licenses to casinos.

State lawmakers approved the streamlined one -year package (H.B. 352), which keeps government spending at current levels, earlier this month on a final 80-10 vote in the House after being approved earlier on a 34-0 vote in the Senate.

Resistance from conservative state senators and representatives coupled with the recent COVID-19 pandemic were the driving factors in the General Assembly’s decision to move quickly to prepare the budget.

In a normal legislative session, Kentucky lawmakers would pass a two-year budget, but the slowdown of the economy as a result of COVID-19 led them to opt for a one-year spending plan, which will require them to pass another one-year budget next year.

Details of the new budget

Licenced sports betting was a casualty of the dramatic economic downturn and resulting scaled-back budget, as were pay rises for school teachers and increased education funding. 

The new one-year proposed budget will take effect July 1 and calls for $11.6 billion in revenue, but top lawmakers say that final numbers will be lucky to hit $11.4 billion with the projected financial impacts of the novel coronavirus pandemic. Popular opinion is that $200 million loss could have been accounted for with the revenue from sports betting.

But state officials have stated that sports betting would not have helped the state out during this unprecedented time because of the suspension or postponement of all live sports.  Racing tracks are also shuttered due to the state emergency orders.

Earlier this year, it appeared that sports betting was going to become legalized in 2020 as House Bill 137 was introduced in January and quickly passed through committee with a unanimous vote by February. Unfortunately, the vote by the House of Representatives to send it to the Senate for approval never took place and the bill died out without further discussion.

Competition with nearby states  

On several occasions, Gov. Beshear told the media that Kentucky is losing betting dollars to neighbouring states, such as West Virginia and Indiana, that have facilitated wagering. Illinois took its first sports bet in March, while Tennessee and Virginia have approved sports betting legislation. There is proposed legislation on the table for Missouri and Ohio.

The Democrat’s win in November was seen as a boost to gambling supporters, but the suddenly stalled economy and resulting scaled-back budget upends his ability to capitalize on his election win and bring sports betting to Kentucky this year.

It appears the issue will have to wait until 2021 or later.

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