A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Gov. Andy Beshear, Rep. Koenig, others work to build support for sports wagering bill in the House

By Tom Latek
Kentucky Today

Gov. Andy Beshear and Rep. Adam Koenig, R-Erlanger, were among the participants in a joint press conference to drum up support for the sports wagering bill currently before the House.

“We have a real urgency here in Kentucky,” Beshear told reporters. “We need new revenue to support the needs of our communities, state and especially our children, who deserve the best education and the most protection that we can provide them.

“We have a real urgency in Kentucky to keep millions of dollars from crossing our rivers, dollars that should be supporting our needs right here in the Commonwealth.”

Gov. Beshear and Rep. Adam Koenig at the press conference. (Photo by Tom Latek/Kentucky Today)

Koenig, the sponsor of the sports wagering bill, said there is widespread support for the legislation.  He said he believes it has enough support to pass the GOP-led House. although others say the Republician caucus is not fully on board.

“When you’re putting together the state chamber, local chambers, the KEA, the FOP, the firefighters, the tourism industry, and many, many other organizations, typically, when a bill like this has that kind of broad-based support, it moves quite easily,” he said.

The bill has drawn opposition from the Kentucky Baptist Convention, which operates Kentucky Today, and the Family Foundation, both on the grounds that sports betting will hurt Kentucky families.

“They are trying to get support from the Republican caucus that doesn’t want to go there,” Family Foundation Executive Director Kent Ostrander said of the news conference by supporters. “So they’re having a parade trying to generate that.”

The Family Foundation said the measure would constitute an expansion of gambling that is prohibited under the state constitution. Ostrander told reporters after the press conference that the organization wouldn’t rule out a lawsuit to block sports betting provisions from being implemented if HB 137 passed into law.

Senate President Roberts Stivers, R-Manchester,  wasn’t sold on the measure either. He told the Courier Journal he didn’t know if it has enough support in his caucus to get a floor vote in the Senate.

“Even if it generated $10 million in tax revenue, what does that do in the overall scope of, in essence, a $12 billion budget?” Stivers asked. “It’s money, but it’s not substantial. It’s not going to cure any of our pension systems.”

Legalizing sports betting would generate $22-25 million annually, according to Beshear.

Kentucky Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Ashli Watts called passing the bill a no-brainer. 

“Not only will it make us more competitive with our surrounding states, who have already enacted or are going to enact it, it will also put much-needed revenue in the state budget to fund our pension system.

“We cannot let this opportunity pass us by this legislative session.”

The bill states the first 5 percent of income will go to agencies combating gambling addiction, with the rest earmarked for the state’s ailing pension system.

Earlier this week, Senate Majority Leader Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, and Majority Caucus Chair Julie Raque Adams, R-Louisville, said if the bill clears the House, they are optimistic it would also clear the Senate.

Thayer added on Thursday, “Senate passage of the sports betting bill will require support of the full Senate Democratic caucus.” Republicans hold a 29-9 advantage in the Senate.

When asked if that support would be forthcoming, Senate Minority Leader Morgan McGarvey, D-Louisville, replied, “I’d bet on it.”

The measure won unanimous approval from a House committee on Jan. 15 but has remained without a floor vote.

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