The Kentucky sports betting bill still has a shot at passing this year. Senate Majority Leader Damon Thayer told reporters Tuesday morning that he plans on giving House Bill 606 first and second readings in the Senate before that body recesses for the General Assembly’s veto period that starts on Thursday.
Thayer, R-Georgetown, and HB 606 sponsor state Rep. Adam Koenig, R-Erlanger, were together Tuesday for a Senate Licensing and Occupations Committee meeting on HB 607, a bill to reform pari-mutuel wagering and taxes, and told reporters the news after that hearing.
I can tell you right now that the votes aren’t there,” Thayer said. “But I think Chairman Koenig deserves an opportunity to take another run at it. Because I think there are some people who still want to learn more about it.”
Thayer, though, is a supporter, and without that support from a Senate leader, the bill probably wouldn’t get that chance.
After adjourning Thursday night, the General Assembly will return to Frankfort for the final two days of the session starting on April 13. While those days will be used to override any vetoes issued by Gov. Andy Beshear, lawmakers can still pass legislation eligible to be voted upon. Getting these readings in the Senate will mean it would only need one other reading before a vote.
Beshear campaigned on expanded gaming three years ago and would almost certainly sign the bill into law.
HB 606 would give sports betting licenses to the state’s racetracks and allow online and retail sports betting. The bill also would legalize online poker and regulate daily fantasy sports.
“Clear the Decks”
HB 606 passed the House by a 58-30 margin on March 18. That marked the first time Koenig’s bill ever received a vote on the chamber’s floor.
Last week, Koenig mentioned his plan to talk with individual senators and get their support. He labeled it “hand-to-hand combat” in an interview on The Weekly last week.
With a flurry of legislation expected to pass in both the Senate and the House Tuesday and Wednesday, Koenig said he’s only met with a couple lawmakers since legislators returned from the weekend. The next couple days likely will not give Koenig much of a chance to meet with lawmakers until the 13-day recess.
We’re going to be voting on a lot of bills,” Thayer said. “We’re going to clear the decks of a lot of things, and I think people will be able to focus on it and he’ll have a chance to see if he can round up the votes.”
A survey conducted last month showed that nearly two-thirds of those polled support legalizing sports betting. That support crosses both parties, and it enjoys majority support among key Republican sectors in the state.
Kentucky is basically surrounded by states that have legalized sports betting. Of the seven states bordering the Bluegrass State, only Missouri has yet to pass a bill for sports betting, and lawmakers there are also considering taking that step this year.
“It’s not even a partisan issue,” said Koenig, who has filed a sports betting bill in the General Assembly every year since the US Supreme Court overturned PASPA nearly four years ago. “When you look at us going in four years from one state to 33 states that have legalized it. Democrat states, Republican states, doesn’t matter. It’s just common sense to a lot of people.”
More Gaming Bills Considered
HB 606 is just one of four gaming-related bills passed by the House in the last two weeks and are currently being considered by the Senate.
Thayer and Koenig presented House Bill 607 to the Senate committee on Tuesday. It would set the pari-mutuel wagering tax at 1.5 percent across the board for bets placed at tracks and simulcast centers, through online advance-deposit accounts, and on historical horse racing machines. The state assesses the tax on the wager.
The bill also caps funding for thoroughbred and standardbred racing development funds. That means more tax revenue would go to the state’s general fund. In addition, the bill would eliminate breakage for live racing. Breakage is the practice of rounding down wagers to 20-cent increments for a $2 bet. It’s a practice that dates back to pre-computerized times when it was more effective to pay bettors in even amounts. If the bill passes, a 4-1 winner on a $2 bet, for example, would payout at up to $10.19 instead of $10.
The Senate committee approved an amended version of the bill that modified the cap on the thoroughbred fund and accounted for an occupational tax issue. It’s expected to go before the Senate before the veto period begins.
Another bill that may go before the Senate in the next couple days is House Bill 608. Sponsored by state Rep. Killian Timoney, R-Lexington, the bill would ban gray machines or unregulated skill machines in the state. It passed the House with just 50 votes.
The final gaming bill in the Senate is House Bill 609. Also sponsored by Koenig, it would set aside $50 million to establish Kentucky’s first problem gambling fund.
The funding would come from the $300 million settlement the state reached with PokerStars last year to settle the decade-plus lawsuit the state filed for operating online poker games illegally in the state. After legal fees, Kentucky received $225 million. Koenig initially proposed allocating the entire amount for problem gambling. However, he accepted a floor amendment on his bill last week that lowered the amount.
That bill is currently in the Senate Appropriations and Revenue Committee.
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