While the Thoroughbred industries in some states have been wary of sports betting, a racing group in Kentucky has enthusiastically backed legislation in the Blue Grass state to make sports betting legal.
The Kentucky Equine Education Project (KEEP) released a statement Thursday coming out in favor of House Bill 137, which would legalize sports betting in the state. The bill was passed unanimously by a House Committee Wednesday.
“…HB 137 has real momentum and a real chance to become law. And we need your help to get it done and put Kentucky in the win column,” the organization said in a statement sent out to the media and its supporters.
KEEP's Executive Vice President Elisabeth Jensen said that the organization had been working behind the scenes for over a year in an effort to make sure that horse racing was factored into any bill that would legalize sports betting. KEEP was seeking four provisions in the bill it thought would benefit racing. It wanted sports betting to be made available at the state's racetracks, the Kentucky Racing Commission to be named the regulatory body overseeing sports wagering, a competitive tax rate on revenue and a portion of the revenue used to benefit racing.
“We are happy about the legislation,” she said. “Last year, we worked with all our industry stakeholders to come up with a wish list if sports betting did become a reality so far as what would it look like in order to benefit our industry. The question comes up constantly, why should horse racing be a part of it? Horse racing is such an integral part of Kentucky's economy and the state's culture. Kentuckians are comfortable with wagering at the racetrack and that's a big justification for the horse industry to be involved in it.”
For bets made at the racetracks, the state would get 10.25% of the take. The state's cut of bets made on an app is 14.25%.
The bill calls for 0.5% of the revenue from bets made at a Thoroughbred racetrack to go to the state's Thoroughbred development fund. With projections that sport betting will bring in about $22 million in revenue per year, racing's share will be small. But most states that have legalized sports betting have cut racing out of the equation.
Jensen said that racing will benefit from sports betting beyond the amount of money allocated to the sport.
“It's not going to be a huge source of revenue,” she said. “But even the sports books in Las Vegas will tell you sports betting is not a big money maker. It is an amenity for the players. We look at it as an opportunity to get causal sports fans interested in horse racing. That would be a win for us. If we can have big super Sundays at Keeneland or the Red Mile and get people to come out and watch and wager not just on sports, but also simulcasting or live racing, that's a big win for us.”
The bill allows for sports betting at all the Kentucky racetracks plus the Kentucky Speedway.
The latest amended earlier bills that banned wagering on events that involved Kentucky colleges. Some saw that as one of the reasons previous sports betting bills did not become law.
Though the bill appears to have bipartisan support and the backing of Governor Andy Beshear, Jensen said that it's too early to celebrate victory.
“The bigger challenge is that this won't get through the Senate,” she said. “Kentucky is still a very conservative state and there are legislators whose constituents don't want them to support any additional gaming. Our opinion is if the bill were not packaged as part of the horse industry, that this would not go anywhere. That's our opinion as an organization and that opinion came from out stakeholders, which represent all areas of the Thoroughbred industry.”