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Legalizing sports gambling? Legislative panel hears pros and cons, aims to draft legislation

By Tom Latek
Kentucky Today

Legalizing sports gambling in Kentucky and who should operate it was the topic of a legislative meeting.

Brendan Bussman with Global Market Advisors, a sports betting consulting firm, described sports wagering as a high volume, but low margin enterprise, meaning a lot of money is involved but there is little profit.

A study performed by his firm indicated that while in 2023 Kentucky could expect a handle of between $173 million to $1.6 billion, depending on the number of betting options offered, revenue for the state would range between $10.4 and $104 million.

Tom Delacensarie, president and CEO of the Kentucky Lottery Corporation, is flanked by gaming machine vendor representatives at a legislative meeting on Friday. (Kentiucky Today/Tom Latek)

If Kentucky decided to legalize sports wagering, Bussman said there were three things to keep in mind:

–Look to see what states who have legalized sports gambling are doing.

–Know your market and perform a feasibility study.

–Know your operators, ones who have a proven track record.

Tom Delacenserie, president and CEO of the Kentucky Lottery Corporation, told the panel they would like to oversee sports gambling, if legalized, and presented his own numbers.

“Estimated tax revenue for the commonwealth we have estimated at between $6.7 to $26 million from sports wagering,” Delacenserie testified.  “There are a lot of variables, availability of places to wager, the hold percentage, the gaming tax rate, the sports included and types of wagers offered.” 

Delacenserie and two vendors currently used for lottery games also displayed machines that could be used at Lottery retailers to keep from having bottlenecks at the cash register.

Senate Majority Leader Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, said he’d prefer to see sports wagering come under the purview of the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission.

The conversation began in earnest after a U S. Supreme Court decision in May allowing states to decide their own fate of sports betting, meaning, for the first time since 1992, wagering on sports will not be limited to only Nevada, Delaware, Montana and Oregon.

Following the decision, Rep. Jason Nemes, R-Louisville; Rep. John Sims, D-Flemingsburg; Sen. Julie Raque Adams, R-Louisville and Sen. Morgan McGarvey, D-Louisville announced formation of a bipartisan, nine-member panel, six from the House and three from the Senate, to draft and file legislation to implement legal sports betting in Kentucky.

In addition to those four lawmakers, others on the panel are Reps. Diane St. Onge, R-Fort Wright; Kim Moser, R-Taylor Mill; George Brown, D-Lexington; and Dean Schamore, D-Hardinsburg and Sen. Julian Carroll, D-Frankfort.

The panel members, who together represent about 20 of Kentucky’s 120 counties, will file companion bills for each chamber that reflect a new revenue stream, estimated to be an additional $5.5 million to nearly $26 million per year pumped into Kentucky’s coffers.

The panel is expected to focus their legislation on professional sports, with possibly some limited instances on college sports while banning wagering on high school or below level sports.

Two lawmakers have already introduced their own legislation for the 2019 General Assembly to legalize sports wagering in Kentucky independent from the panel, Carroll and Rep. Dennis Keane, D-Wilder.

Not everyone is looking forward to such legislation. Frankfort attorney Tom Troth, a legislative agent for the Kentucky Baptist Convention, has said he’s troubled because of the financial hardship and lack of opportunities for families that gambling creates.

“Gambling is predatory, and those who gamble will inevitably lose the hard-earned funds that they can ill afford to wager on sports teams or any other form of gambling activity,” Troth said.

“According to information provided by Stop Predatory Gambling, ‘the American people lost $117 billion on state-sanctioned gambling in 2016, causing life-changing financial losses for millions of citizens.’ The problem of predatory gambling will be made far worse if sports gambling parlors are allowed to operate in the Commonwealth of Kentucky.”

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