Sports betting bill far from done deal as both sides weigh in

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (KT) – Not everybody is lined up in support of the expanded sports wagering bill that continues to sit in the Kentucky House.


The Kentucky Baptist Convention and the Family Foundation are squarely against controversial House Bill 137 because of the damage it would do to Kentucky families.


The measure, projected to generate about $22 million a year in revenue, passed the House Licensing, Occupations and Administrative Regulations Committee on an 18-0 vote Jan. 15, but it has yet to be called for a vote in the full House.


The bill has created a schism among Republicans who control the legislature. Christian conservatives oppose it for moral reasons while some other Republican lawmakers envision it as a new revenue stream that is badly needed to help an underfunded pension system.


In a House speech on Thursday, Republican Chris Fugate denounced gambling on moral grounds.


“Gambling is not the answer,” said Fugate, who is from eastern Kentucky. “If you think about when we depend on the people of our districts to lose money so the state can gain money, it’s not biblical, first of all. It’s against the Bible. It’s morally wrong.”


Rep. Adam Koenig, R-Erlanger, is the bill’s main sponsor and he says it has widespread support among Kentuckians. He brought a similar measure this far in last year’s session.


“Let's give grown adults the opportunity to make their own decisions," he said.


Two Senate majority leaders, Damon Thayer and Julie Raque Adams, suggested earlier this week that the measure would pass their chamber if it gets there. Thayer, a Georgetown Republican, said the votes are there.


Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, is ambivalent and less enthusiastic about the measure himself. It wouldn’t pass that chamber without a lot of Republican support since the GOP holds a 29-9 advantage in the Senate.


And Stivers isn’t convinced it has enough support in his caucus to get a floor vote in the Senate. The financial numbers don’t add up for him either, as far as making much of a difference in a huge budget.


“Even if it generated $10 million in tax revenue, what does that do in the overall scope of, in essence, a $12 billion budget?” Stivers said in a story in the Courier Journal. “It’s money, but it’s not substantial. It’s not going to cure any of our pension systems.”


KBC Executive Director-Treasurer Dr. Todd Gray said advancement of the measure would be a grave disappointment considering the legislature’s GOP supermajorities control the bill’s outcome.


“Given the number of Republicans that make up the House and the Senate, it is a safe bet that expanded gambling will not happen in Kentucky without Republican support,” he said. “Folks who oppose sports wagering in Kentucky, including Kentucky Baptists, as demonstrated by our unanimous support of a resolution to that effect, will be extremely disappointed to learn that those who represent us in Frankfort are relying on gambling to fund teachers pensions and childhood education.”


Family Foundation Executive Director Kent Ostrander said Thursday’s press conference by Gov. Andy Beshear, community leaders and lawmakers in promoting the measure was “having a parade trying to generate support from the Republican caucus that doesn’t want to go there.”


The Family Foundation said the measure would constitute an expansion of gambling that is prohibited under the state constitution. Ostrander told reporters after the press conference that the organization wouldn't rule out a lawsuit to block sports betting provisions from being implemented if HB 137 passed into law.


As the bill is written, the bulk of the money generated would support the underfunded public pension systems. A portion, 5 percent, would support gambling addiction services.


The 54-page bill would legalize betting on professional and college sports and other events including professional golf tournaments, motor racing, World Cup soccer, the Olympics and more. Also, proposition bet like a field goal attempt, baeball at bat, a coin toss or even more obscure items would be permitted if the state racing commission allowed.

Under the measure, people could place sports bets at Kentucky's horse racetracks and at the Kentucky Speedway or online through an app downloaded at the tracks.

It would also allow wagering on college sports teams in Kentucky, including University of Kentucky and University of Louisville basketball and football games. That provision was excluded from last year's failed bill.

Other forms of gambling provided for in the bill are online poker and fantasy sports.

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