Ohio’s sports betting industry is only two months old, but there are new signs that neighboring Kentucky could follow suit and legalize the industry sooner than later.
Ohio sports betting kicked off on Jan. 1. With Kentucky now nearly surrounded by states offering legal sports betting, one lawmaker has introduced a new bill that would legalize sports betting in Kentucky in connection with the state’s horse racing tracks.
Previous attempts in Kentucky to legalize sports betting and other gambling haven’t survived the scrutiny of the state’s lawmakers. One Republican representative is trying again, with a new bill more narrowly focused on sports betting.
Kentuckians are already betting legally, but not at home
According to Kentucky State. Rep. Michael Meredith, who introduced the bill on Feb. 22, Kentucky misses out on potential tax revenue from sports betting because many Kentuckians already gamble in neighboring states, like Ohio.
Seven of the eight states that border Kentucky offer legal sports betting via online sportsbooks. Missouri is the only bordering state that doesn’t.
Meredith told PlayUSA:
“As a Kentucky resident, you can drive right across the state line and place a bet now. 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.”
In the Republican-controlled legislature, Meredith’s bill is more likely to gain support than the previous bills, which included online poker and fantasy sports.
As PlayUSA previously reported, Senate Majority Leader Damon Thayer said legalizing sports betting in Kentucky was more likely to happen without the other gambling options included.
“I just think the bill needs to be narrowly tailored toward legalizing sports betting,” Thayer said. “I think having fantasy sports and online poker in there were unnecessary distractions.”
What sports betting could look like in Kentucky
Meredith’s bill would authorize Kentucky’s nine horse racing tracks to partner with up to three online sportsbook providers to offer betting apps and websites. That would mean a maximum of 27 online sportsbooks would be available in the state. The racetracks would also be authorized to offer retail sports betting on location.
The bill would allow betting on the usual professional and college sports, some amateur sporting events, esports, and international events like the World Cup and the Olympics.
Kentucky would have a lower minimum age to bet on sports than Ohio does. The bill sets the minimum age at 18, whereas in Ohio bettors must be 21 or older.
Online sportsbooks would be taxed at 14.25%, and retail sportsbooks at racetracks would pay 9.75%.
Sports betting in the state would be regulated by the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission.
GeoComply data shows Kentuckians cross the Ohio border to gamble
Kentucky is Ohio’s only neighboring state that does not allow sports betting. GeoComply, the company that verifies the location of bettors using online sportsbook apps in Ohio, reported that the Cincinnati area had more geolocation checks than any other Ohio city in January.
Cleveland, a larger metro area than Cincinnati but with no bordering state, saw 31.38 million geolocation checks. The Cincinnati area had 20% more at 38.18 million checks. GeoComply’s data shows that the Northern Kentucky area that borders Cincinnati contributed to that number. Northern Kentucky is that state’s third-largest metropolitan area, behind Louisville and Lexington.
In January, 2,042 unique accounts were detected to have physically crossed the border into Ohio around 7,700 times.
Other Kentuckians attempted to access Ohio online sportsbooks but didn’t make the trek across state lines. GeoComply performed 1 million geolocation checks for 58,000 unique users in Kentucky.
Sportsbook apps aren’t the only option for Kentuckians who cross into Ohio to gamble. Downtown Cincinnati features a few high-profile retail sportsbooks. Hard Rock Casino features a Hard Rock Sportsbook, and Great American Ball Park recently opened a BetMGM Sportsbook. There’s also a FanDuel Sportsbook at Belterra Park and a temporary Superbook Sportsbook location in Cincinnati’s historic Over-the-Rhine neighborhood.
Several bars, restaurants and other businesses in the area offer kiosk betting as well.
Can Kentucky’s new sports betting bill become law?
Kentucky’s governor is a proponent of legalized sports betting and has requested that lawmakers put legislation on his desk. On the heels of Ohio’s sports betting launch in January, Gov. Andy Beshear mentioned sports betting at his State of the Commonwealth address.
Meredith thinks the new legislation might just be the ticket.
“I think we have enough votes in the House to pass, probably with a few to spare,” he told PlayUSA. “Based on the high-level discussions I’ve had, I think we’re within one or two votes of getting the Senate numbers to pass even with the higher threshold. I don’t want to take anything for granted, but I’m pretty optimistic we can get this passed.”
However, lawmakers will have to move quickly to make it happen. Kentucky’s legislative session ends in less than five weeks, on March 30.