I have been asked why I opposed sports betting legislation, especially when I supported historical horse racing and parimutuel racing at our horse tracks. That is a fair question. Here is my answer.
Parimutuel gambling at the race track and parimutuel gambling on historical racing machines are very different from sports betting. Parimutuel betting at the track and historical racing benefit our signature thoroughbred racing industry. It has a long and storied tradition of which Kentuckians are very proud. For me, it’s even an art form. Historical horse racing legislation, which I sponsored, has been instrumental in revitalizing this great pastime by increasing the purses in thoroughbred races to historic levels. These increased purses have brought thoroughbred racing in Kentucky back to its glory days with world-class horses, trainers, and jockeys. With the eyes of the world on our most recent Kentucky Derby, thoroughbred racing has a special place in our hearts.
It is important to realize that sports betting was always legal in Kentucky, but I was asked to support government-sanctioned sports betting, from which we derive tax revenues. Betting on sports through an app on your phone—especially college sports—sends the wrong message to our students. College sports are part of the educational process, in which our young people learn the value of hard work, competition, defeat, victory, and many other important lessons. College sports are one of the most essential parts of the educational process at our colleges and universities. History shows us the very integrity of these sports could be compromised.
People say to me in response to this that college sports have gotten away from these ideas. All other states around us are taking the ‘everyone else is doing it approach.’ Sadly, to some degree, they are correct. My response reminds me of what I heard my mentor, National Baseball Hall of Fame inductee and former U.S. senator Jim Bunning, say when he addressed similar concerns, “If I’m standing waist deep in sewage, my constituents want me to try to clean it up, not jump in and swim in it.”
Betting on college sports creates a hyper-gambling atmosphere at our institutions of learning. You can see changes on ESPN College GameDay Show, where the significant topic is the spread of points, or in advertising, which frequently promotes sports books. These developments are disturbing. At the end of the day, my vote was about balance. Considering the pluses and minuses of sports betting legislation, I had to vote no.