Strong Support for Kentucky Sports Betting, Even from GOP Groups

Strong Support for Kentucky Sports Betting, Even from GOP Groups

Posted on: February 10, 2022, 08:55h. 

Last updated on: February 10, 2022, 09:03h.

Steve Bittenbender

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Nearly two-thirds of Kentuckians surveyed said they support legalizing sports betting in the state. That’s according to a survey conducted by Public Opinion Strategies for Kentucky Sports Betting Now, the results of which were released Thursday.

Kentucky state capitol
A proposal to legalize sports betting in Kentucky likely wouldn’t tiptoe through the tulips at the State Capitol in Frankfort. However, survey results released Thursday show that a strong majority of voters support expanding gaming in the state. (Image: Kentucky.gov)

The poll finds sports betting enjoys support across all political parties. It’s strongest, with independents at 81 percent support. The survey found 69 percent of Democrats and 58 percent of Republicans endorse the idea.

Overall, 65 percent support sports betting compared to 26 percent opposed.

According to a polling memo, Public Opinion Strategies surveyed 500 registered voters from last Saturday through Monday. The firm asked voters if they would support allowing sports betting at the state’s thoroughbred and harness tracks as well as through mobile apps. The survey’s margin of error was 4.4 percent.

The memo said that support for the proposal jumps to 74 percent after respondents were told that 95 percent of the state’s proceeds would go toward funding pensions for public employees, such as teachers and state troopers. That absorbed most undecided respondents, with 24 percent still saying they’re against the plan.

Kentucky is almost completely surrounded by states that have legalized sports betting. Of its seven neighbors, only Missouri has yet to allow it.

Kentucky Sports Betting Now is supported by a consortium of organizations and businesses that want lawmakers to legalize the activity.

“We will be active in building support this session and until sports betting legislation passes in Kentucky,” spokesperson Dan Bayens told Casino.org on Thursday.

Where Sports Betting Stands in Kentucky

Sports betting seemed on track to be legalized by the Kentucky General Assembly in 2020. Early in that session, the House Committee on Licensing, Occupations, and Administrative Regulations unanimously approved a bill by its chairman, state Rep. Adam Koenig, R-Erlanger.

However, although the bill had more than 40 of the 99 other House members cosponsor the bill, it languished on the House floor. One issue impacting it was the lack of Republican support for the legislation. While Republicans held 61 of the 100 seats in that session, Democrats made up most of the cosponsors.

Since then, Republicans have widened their majority in the House. This year, they hold 75 of the 100 seats. Democrats currently have 24 seats and are expected to retain the vacant seat that’s up for a special election later this month.

In theory, that means proponents would need as few as 26 Republicans to get to a simple majority. However, politics is not that simple. The Hastert Rule – an informal modern political axiom – states that a bill shouldn’t come for a vote unless a majority of the majority party supports it.

If it were in play for a sports betting bill, that would mean 38 Republicans would need to vote yes.

Bayens didn’t quantify just how much Republican support the bill has, other than to say “a lot” of GOP lawmakers back it. “And we would obviously welcome more,” he added.

Democratic support may not be unanimous, but most would likely vote for the bill. That’s because Gov. Andy Beshear supports expanded gaming.

Beshear’s support may explain why some Republicans are hesitant to support it. They may not want to give him a political victory. That’s especially so since relations between GOP lawmakers and the administration are rather chilly.

That’s not the only hang-up, though. A large portion of House Republicans is social conservatives who have the support of anti-gaming groups like the Family Foundation of Kentucky.

And, of course, the House is just half the battle. Republicans also control 30 of the 38 seats in the state Senate.

Poll Show Strong Republican Support

Proponents hope they can use the poll to swing more Republican lawmakers behind the bill.

The polling data breaks down GOP voter support into four categories. In every category, respondents, who self-identified themselves through a series of questions, favored sports betting legalization by at least 21 percent.

Strong Republicans: 57-35 Support
Soft Republicans: 60-33 Support
Conservative Voters: 56-35 Support
Trump 2020 Voters: 60-30 Support

While Democrats hold a slight advantage in the number of registered voters in the state, Kentucky primarily is a strongly Republican state based on recent election results.

When asked if he thought the survey might swing some lawmakers’ minds, Bayens said he was completely confident the legislation would pass “at some point.” And the group would work on building support for the measure until that day comes.

Bill Coming Soon, Another Option Also Proposed

The 2022 session is almost halfway complete. Thursday was day 26 of the 60-day term. The session ends in mid-April, but the final day to introduce new bills in the House is March 1.

Koenig has yet to file his bill. However, the Northern Kentucky lawmaker told Casino.org on Thursday that he would in the near future. He has said it likely would not change much from his prior bills.

As this poll shows, legalizing sports wagering in Kentucky is wildly popular,” Koenig said. “In addition, the poll shows that it is a political plus for candidates. I’ll be filing the bill soon and hope we will be able to wager next year on my hometown Bengals when they return to the Super Bowl!”

The upcoming House bill is not the only gaming measure in Frankfort. Last week, two state senators filed a proposed constitutional amendment to allow voters to decide if they want to expand gaming in the state.

Senate Bill 141 would not approve any type of gaming on its own. The bill sponsored by Minority Leader Morgan McGarvey, D-Louisville, and Majority Caucus Chair Julie Raque-Adams, R-Louisville, would leave that to future sessions of the General Assembly, which would have the power to authorize legal forms of gaming across the state.

McGarvey told Casino.org Thursday that the amendment process would eliminate the risk of a lawsuit from opponents if lawmakers only passed a bill. He said it’s “a clean way” to address the issue.

While a bill needs just a simple majority to pass, constitutional amendments require three-fifths majorities in both chambers to pass. A simple majority of voters in November would then need to ratify it.

McGarvey admitted there’s still work to do to get support for the amendment.

“It’s still an uphill battle, but we’re going to work,” he said. “We’ve been trying this for years, and it’s an easy way for us to get revenue, which is already leaving from our state and going to pay for schools and roads in other states.”