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Gambling in Kentucky: Yes, No, and Who Knows

The one thing we do know: horses and horsey people matter.

2 min read
Photo by Erik Mclean / Unsplash

We all know that in the Bluegrass State, betting on horses is not only okay, it’s actually encouraged. It’s not called the “Kentucky Derby” for nothing.

Apparently, according to The Lege, it’s also okay to gamble your money on slot machines – as long as they’re tied to horses in some way. The folks in Frankfort said that “historical horse racing” machines were legal a few years ago, as long as they were run by a horse track.

Seeing a pattern here?

That pattern — Churchill Downs gets what it wants, and blocks what it doesn’t — played out this week in Frankfort, as the General Assembly passed a bill making “gray machines” illegal. Those are those electronic games that have been spreading like wildfire in bars, services stations, quick marts, and even restaurants.

They are another form of gambling, where some of the profit goes to the business that hosts them. But, helping out small businesses by making the machines legal (and regulating them and taxing them as well) apparently didn’t matter as much as keeping the horse racing industry happy. The horse folks wanted the machines banned, because the gray machines were taking some market share away from the gambling controlled by the horse folks.

Which brings us to sports betting. Bills have been filed over the years to make sports betting legal (and taxed) in Kentucky. The bills have usually passed in the House, then died in the Senate.

But this year, HB 551 has not only passed the House – it has come out of a Senate committee as well. On Wednesday morning, the bill passed out of the Senate Licensing and Occupation Committee, with only Republican John Schickel voting Nay.

Since this is a short year, and the bill has a fiscal impact, it needs 23 votes to pass the full Senate. The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Michael Meredith, thinks they are a few votes short. (If it was a long session, they would only need 20 votes, which he says the bill has.)

Oh, and one more fun fact about the sports betting bill: it requires all brick-and-mortar and online sports betting locations to be connected to horse racing tracks.

Because of course – this is Kentucky, after all.


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Forward Kentucky

The editorial board of Forward Kentucky. Articles under this author name have been written, edited, and approved by a number of the contributors on this site, as well as the publisher.

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