Kentucky Launches Thriving Sports Betting Market


Sports betting in the Bluegrass State kicked off with the verve of thoroughbreds bolting from the starting gates at the iconic Churchill Downs. On a day of firsts, Kentucky Governor Andy Beshear marked the occasion as he laid down the inaugural wager on September 7, 2023, with the backing of Churchill Downs President Mike Anderson. This heralded the launch of Kentucky’s long-awaited sports betting scene, promising a fresh vein of revenue to the state’s coffers.

The decision to usher in a sports betting market represents Kentucky’s most substantial push into gambling in recent decades, eclipsed only by the 2021 legislature’s endorsement of historical horse racing machines. The Republican-led legislature floated the sports betting bill through Capitol halls in March, and found an eager signatory in Governor Beshear. Subsequent to the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission’s crafting of regulatory frameworks, licenses were granted, and eager enthusiasts gathered as physical sportsbook locations opened their doors.

The zeal for sports betting wasn’t confined to brick-and-mortar establishments. By September 28, the green light was also given to online sportsbooks, propelling Kentucky into the digital betting sphere. Governor Beshear noted the unprecedented interest in sports betting across the nation, and Kentucky was no exception. With the projections for the state’s annual tax benefits from sports betting originally pegged at $23 million, the governor projected that actual figures would soar well beyond those estimations.

“We’re off to a phenomenal start,” remarked Beshear. “And should this momentum persist, we’ll easily top our projected revenue from sports betting. These tax dollars will fortify our efforts in overseeing sports wagering, bolster a problem gambling fund, and most importantly, contribute to bolstering Kentucky’s pension systems.”

Securing a sportsbook license in Kentucky doesn’t come cheap, with a staggering half a million-dollar price tag attached. The returns, however, are potentially lucrative with gross sports betting revenue subject to a 9.75% tax for in-person bets and an even heftier 14.25% for those made through online sportsbooks.

Kentuckians of legal age, which is 18 and up, can choose from 13 snazzy retail sportsbook venues and even more digital platforms. The digital realm boasts heavyweights like bet365, BetMGM, and DraftKings among others. Circa Sportsbook is expected to join the online fray soon.

The figures speak volumes. Online betting has dominated the landscape, capturing the lion’s share of sports betting action, a trend observed across states with both retail and online sports betting. Since its inception in early September, Kentucky sportsbooks have recorded in excess of $656 million in wagers. Compare that with less than $27 million bet in the flesh and brick of sportsbook locales.

The transition to sports betting hasn’t come without pushback, with Republican lawmakers in particular voicing concerns over the social ills they associate with expansion in gambling. Conservative factions have steadfastly resisted broader casino development citing potential exacerbation of addictions, financial woes, and corresponding crime.

Beshear has parried this resistance by suggesting that Kentucky’s sports betting market is merely appropriating funds previously lost to out-of-state entities or illegal bets. “We need to remember that before we legalized sports betting, this revenue was benefiting other states or it was falling into the hands of illicit bookkeeping operations,” he pointed out.

David Walls, of The Family Foundation of Kentucky, stands firmly against the governor’s view. The Foundation, which advocates for policy rooted in Biblical values, considers sports betting an industry built on exploitation. “This amplification of predatory gambling stands as a double-edged sword against Kentuckians, and most poignantly against children and the most vulnerable. Arguments touting economic benefits bypass the stark reality that government-sponsored gambling is, to our society, a blight, historically siphoning thrice its gains in social damage.”

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