Everything Ohioans Need To Know About Kentucky Sports Betting

Written By Mike Breen on June 20, 2023
Kentucky Sports Betting

Of the five states that border Ohio, all but one — Kentucky — currently allow sports betting.

But that will change by the end of 2023, as Kentucky prepares to launch sports betting, allowing retail and online sportsbooks across the Bluegrass State.

Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear signed House Bill 551 in March, with the law set to go into effect on June 28.

The law stipulates that Kentucky’s sports betting industry must launch within six months of the law going into effect — with the first online and retail sportsbooks licensed and ready to take bets and the sports betting regulatory infrastructure in place.

State officials have made public statements suggesting the launch could happen in advance of the six-month deadline of Dec. 28. Here’s everything Ohioans need to know about the pending Kentucky sports betting launch and new market to the south.

Kentucky governor hopeful for pre-NFL season launch

Gov. Beshear has said a few times that he is hopeful that Kentucky’s sports betting industry could be up and running by the start of the NFL season.

At a June 1 press conference, Beshear discussed the goal of having sportsbooks ready to take bets by the NFL’s Sept. 7 kickoff, saying the state was “committed to making it happen.”

“I will tell you, this is a very ambitious goal to get this launched by the NFL season,” Beshear said, according to PlayKentucky. “But every single one of our cabinets and the (Kentucky) Horse Racing Commission (which is charged with regulating Kentucky’s sports betting industry) have all committed to making it happen.”

In a recent interview with The Lines, Kentucky State Sen. Damon Thayer, one of the sports betting bill’s co-sponsors, was a bit more cautious with the timeline. Thayer said he was told by Jonathan Rabinowitz, the chairman of the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission, that he was “pretty optimistic that football season is a real possibility.”

When asked if that meant sports betting would be available at the start of the season or at just some point during the season, Thayer said, “I think that’s to be determined.”

Sports betting will surely be available at some point during the upcoming football season, since the legislation requires the industry be launched by Dec. 28 and the NFL’s regular season runs through early January.

Kentucky sports betting market’s differences from Ohio

Indicative of Kentucky’s longstanding tradition of horse racing, the state’s sports betting law tasks the established Kentucky Horse Racing Commission with regulating the new industry.

In the Buckeye State, the Ohio Casino Control Commission is in charge of regulating sportsbooks — both online and retail ones at casinos, racinos and other venues. Ohio’s unique sports betting kiosks, available at licensed bars, restaurants, shops and other venues in the state, are licensed and regulated by the OCCC and the Ohio Lottery Commission.

Kentucky so far has no plans for such sports betting kiosks.

The Kentucky sports betting law allows for 40 sportsbooks overall. The state’s nine horse racing tracks and the Kentucky Speedway (an auto racing track) are each allowed to open an onsite, brick-and-mortar retail sportsbook.

The 10 racing facilities are also allowed to partner with up to three online sportsbooks, which will be available to users statewide.

Ohio currently allows for up to 86 sportsbooks — 46 online apps and 40 retail sportsbooks. Law requires online sportsbook operators to have market-access partners, such as the state’s 11 casinos/racinos and 10 pro sports teams, which are allowed to apply for two skins. Ohio retail sportsbook licenses are limited by county according to population.

Currently, almost six months after Ohio launched sports betting on Jan. 1, there are 18 online sportsbooks operating in the state and 14 retail sportsbooks.

Kentucky to have lower minimum sports betting age than Ohio

Perhaps the biggest — and most controversial — difference between sports betting in Ohio and Kentucky is Kentucky’s minimum age requirement for those wishing to engage in sports betting.

While those using sportsbooks or kiosks to wager on sports in Ohio must be 21 or older, Kentucky has set its minimum age at 18 years old.

That will put Kentucky in the minority of states that currently allow sports betting. Kentucky will be one of only five states — out of the more than 35 states that currently allow sports betting — to set the minimum age at 18. In all of the other states, you must be 21 or older to bet on sports legally.

Kentucky officials have said 18 was chosen because it is also the minimum age to engage in the state’s other gambling options — betting on horses and playing the lottery.

Some Ohio regulatory officials and problem gambling experts have been critical of Kentucky’s decision to allow 18-and-up individuals to bet on sports legally in the state. Some worry about 18- to 20-year-old Ohioans crossing the border into Kentucky to place bets.

Matt Schuler, the Ohio Casino Control Commission’s executive director who has been vocal about his opposition to Kentucky’s age minimum, recently told PlayOhio that research shows younger adults are at higher risk of developing gambling problems.

“Young adults have the highest incidence of risk-taking behaviors,” Schuler said. “Multiple scientific surveys have shown that the brain is not fully developed until age 25, especially in males.

“Additionally, a national survey conducted in 2021 by the National Council on Problem Gambling (NCPG) found that 18- to 24-year-olds lack gambling literacy and nearly three-quarters of that group thought gambling was either a great way to make money or they weren‘t sure. The Ohio Problem Gambling Prevalence surveys consistently show that 18- to 24-year olds are the highest at risk for suffering from negative consequences due to their gambling behavior.”

Which sportsbooks will be coming to Kentucky?

So far, the only sportsbook brand to announce partnerships to enter Kentucky’s sports betting market has been Caesars Entertainment.

In May, Caesars Sportsbook announced it would be partnering with two Lexington racing facilities — Keeneland and Red Mile. Both facilities will have a retail Caesars Sportsbook, and the Caesars sports betting app will be available throughout the state.

Other major sports betting brands, like DraftKings Sportsbook, FanDuel Sportsbook and BetMGM Sportsbook, are expected to pursue partnerships in the state. PlayKentucky says another likely entrant is Bet365 Sportsbook, the U.K.-based company that has experienced early success in Ohio.

On June 20, the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission holds just its second meeting since Gov. Beshear signed the sports betting legislation into law. Many more details are expected about what the new sports betting industry will look like, including, potentially, an updated launch timeline, responsible gambling measures and other possible sportsbook operators interested in coming to Kentucky.

Kentucky sports betting launch not likely to affect Ohio market much

Six of the seven states that share a border with Kentucky currently allow sports betting, including Ohio. That means Kentuckians nearly all around the state have been able to cross the border to place legal sports bets, either using an app or at a retail sportsbook.

Kentucky State Rep. Michael Meredith, who introduced the initial sports betting bill, said that loss of potential tax revenue was a motivation for Kentucky to legalize sports betting.

“As a Kentucky resident, you can drive right across the state line and place a bet now,” Meredith told PlayUSA in February. “And because of the way our border regions are set up, there’s a huge amount of people who can be in another state placing wagers on their phones within about 15 minutes of their homes. I think it’s time to pick up that revenue that will be good for our pension systems.”

Still, Kentucky’s legalization of sports betting will likely have a negligible effect on Ohio’s nascent sports betting industry.

Kentuckians crossing into Ohio to bet at one of Cincinnati’s four retail sportsbooks will now have another retail sportsbook option in Northern Kentucky. But just one — Turfway Park Racing & Gaming in Florence will be eligible for a retail sportsbook — won’t have much effect on Ohio’s overall sports betting numbers.

Through April, over 98% of Ohio’s sports betting volume has come from online sportsbooks. Bettors in Northern Kentucky who’ve crossed over into Ohio to place bets on sportsbook apps — of which there have been plenty according to data from GeoComply — will no longer have to do that, which will take some volume from Ohio.

But as the market continues to mature, that loss of volume will likely be unnoticeable.

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Mike Breen

Mike Breen covers Ohio’s budding sports betting industry for PlayOhio, focusing on online sportsbooks and the state’s responsible gambling initiatives. He has over two decades of experience covering sports, news, music, arts and culture in Ohio.

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