A bill to legalize sports betting passes the Kentucky House

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — A bill to legalize sports betting in Kentucky passed the House on Monday, setting up a potential Senate showdown on a proposal that is divisive among the Republican supermajority.

Earlier efforts to legalize sports betting in the Bluegrass State won support in the House but died in the Senate. It’s a reflection of how divisive gambling is in the state that is home to Churchill Downs in Louisville, home of the Kentucky Derby.

After years of shortages, advocates said it was time for Kentucky to adopt a form of betting already available in most border states.

“You literally just have to drive across the county line or cross the river to participate in their programs.” said Republican Rep. Michael Meredith, the bill’s lead sponsor.

The measure passed the House on a 63-34 vote, but its prospects in the Senate are uncertain, with a higher procedural hurdle to clear this year. It requires a three-fifths vote in each chamber to pass because it is an odd-numbered year revenue bill.

A key proponent, Senate Majority Leader Damon Thayer, said later Monday that it would be “difficult” to meet that high threshold.

“But first, I want to try to get it out of committee,” Thayer said in an interview.

Opponents of the bill said state-sanctioned sports betting would create additional social problems that would hurt families. Republican Rep. Chris Fugate said, “This is not a law Kentucky can be proud of.”

“It’s not good for Kentucky,” he said. “It’s not good for families. It is not good for people. And I really hope and pray that we will see legislation that will bring jobs to eastern Kentucky and to the rural areas of this state.”

If legalized, sports betting in Kentucky is expected to generate about $23 million in tax revenue annually, Meredith said.

House Bill 551 allows racetracks in Kentucky to be licensed as sports betting facilities for an upfront fee of $500,000 and an annual renewal fee of $50,000. Participating tracks can enter into contracts with three service providers to provide sports betting services at the track itself or through online websites and mobile applications. Service providers would have to pay $50,000 for an initial license with a $10,000 annual renewal fee.

Under the bill, the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission would regulate sports betting operations.

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