Kentucky lawmakers ended the 2022 session of the General Assembly on Thursday evening. They were unable to pass legislation that would legalize sports betting in the Bluegrass State.
House Bill 606, which would have legalized sports betting and online poker and regulated fantasy sports, never got a third reading on the Senate floor during the final two days of the session. It could not even get out of a Senate committee, even as leaders moved it from the Licensing and Occupations Committee to the Economic Development, Tourism, and Labor Committee on Wednesday.
“We just don’t have the votes,” Senate Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, said during a final-hour speech in the chamber.
Thayer previously described the bill’s chances of passing as a longshot before lawmakers returned Wednesday for the final two days of the session. Nonetheless, as a supporter of the bill, he gave it two readings late last month before the legislature recessed for the veto period. That gave the bill’s sponsor, state Rep. Adam Koenig, one final chance to whip up support for the bill.
Supporters told Casino.org the bill was about four votes short as of Thursday morning.
The end of the session brought about a sense of disappointment from proponents of the sports betting bill, which finally passed the House last month for the first time since Koenig, R-Erlanger, filed his initial bill in 2019. They pledged to continue the effort to legalize what 33 other states and the District of Columbia already have.
All we did was postpone the inevitable,” Koenig told Casino.org after the session concluded.
Koenig thanked Thayer, Senate Majority Caucus Chair Julie Raque Adams, R-Louisville, and Economic Development Committee Chair Wil Schroder, R-Wilder, for their efforts to drum up support in the Senate.
While proponents in the legislature were disappointed, supporters across Kentucky vented their frustrations online. Polls from February showed a two-thirds majority of Kentuckians supported sports betting. That included a majority of Republican voters, a datapoint Koenig frequently pointed to as he sought support from his own party on the bill.
It took Kentucky forever to get @yuenglingbeer distributed so I don’t know why I’m surprised we couldn’t get sports betting done when every state around us has it.
— Kevin Mullins (@KMullins4) April 15, 2023
Other Kentucky Gaming Bills Also Fail to Pass
After his 2020 bill languished on the House floor for most of that session, Koenig waited until late February to file HB 606 and three other gaming bills.
Of those, the only one that passed was House Bill 607, which reformed the state’s pari-mutuel taxes for horse racing and eliminated breakage on payouts to bettors.
The other bills were House Bill 608, which would have banned gray machines or skill games, and House Bill 609, which would have established the state’s first problem gambling fund.
HB 608 actually passed the Senate on Wednesday. But an amendment to the bill forced it to go back to the House for its concurrence.
Senate, House Fail to Reach Agreement
By Thursday afternoon, both Koenig and House Speaker David Osborne, R-Prospect, made it clear to reporters that the House would not consider the amended gray games bill unless the Senate took up sports betting.
Prior to that, Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear called out Thayer during a press conference for not being able to get the votes in the Senate to pass the bill.
“My thought is if Damon Thayer wanted sports betting to pass, he’d get it passed,” said Beshear, who backs efforts to expand gaming in Kentucky. “It’s time. The people of Kentucky absolutely want this.”
Kentucky is surrounded by seven states. All of those except Missouri have at least passed a sports betting law, and lawmakers in Missouri are considering it this session.
With five neighboring states already offering sports betting, thousands of Kentuckians are already taking part – with their losses helping generate tax dollars for Illinois, Indiana, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia. Recent data from GeoComply found that the IT firm blocked more than 530,000 geolocation transactions over a 30-day period. Those attempts came from approximately 41,000 unique accounts.
Beshear, a Democrat, noted that several of Kentucky’s neighbors that have sports betting passed it with GOP-led legislatures.
Thayer responded on social media, dismissing Beshear’s comment as “irrelevant, out of touch, and hyperpartisan.”
While Thayer and a number of other GOP senators backed the bill, Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, was not a supporter. Republicans control 30 of the 38 seats in the Senate.
.@GovAndyBeshear again plays politics and shows a total lack of understanding on how the legislature works. Blaming me proves he’s totally irrelevant, out of touch & hyperpartisan.
I support #sportsbetting but I can’t make people vote yes if they are opposed. https://t.co/XjGNYUqmP1
— damon thayer (@damon_thayer) April 14, 2023
Can Next Year be the Year?
To borrow a word from Koenig, a bill for the 2023 session is all but inevitable at this point. While the session lasts 30 legislative days, he’ll have time to meet with senators before the session starts. That includes those who will be newly elected after the November elections.
Under Kentucky’s constitution, the odd-year sessions call for any bill generating revenue to get a three-fifths majority for passage. In the House, that would be 60 votes. In the Senate, that would be 23.
Last month, HB 606 passed in the House by a 58-30 margin. It likely would have received 60 votes if a few members who were not present had a chance to vote on the bill. So, it may boil down to the Senate again next year.
Based on the stronghold Republicans have, and provided that does not change in the upcoming elections, Koenig would need 16 GOP senators to back the bill. Most, if not all Democrats, would be expected to support it.
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