The Sports Betting Bill Lost Again. Here's Why.

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Because this state embarrassed itself in Frankfort yesterday. That’s why. Because a select few out-of-touch legislators, who can’t give one good reason for why they’re opposed to sports gambling, are given enough power from their small communities to override what an overwhelming majority of Kentuckians support and want. Because those legislators think they should have complete moral control over you and me, and because they have no interest in moving this state forward with a slam dunk that would bring in MILLIONS of dollars.

Sports betting isn’t some hot-button, controversial issue that is dividing a Commonwealth. It’s betting, which we already celebrate, but on sports. The professional leagues now have gambling partners that advertise during games. The betting lines are on the ESPN ticker. It’s a pretty common subject matter that has become very normal beyond Kentucky’s borders. Matter of fact, ALL of Kentucky’s neighboring states have passed sports gambling and those seven states–Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, West Virginia (WEST VIRGINIA!), Virginia, and Tennessee–are laughing at us today as they build bigger to welcome Kentuckians across state lines with open arms.

And open duffle bags.

Meanwhile, here in the Bluegrass, our state legislators are waving goodbye to that money (FREE MONEY!) and car loads of Kentuckians without explaining why in the year of our Lord 2022 we can bet on horse races in Japan or on scratch-off lottery tickets or on actual slot machines they won’t call slot machines, but we can’t have a little fun on Super Bowl Sunday.

Right now from my couch in Lexington, I can pick up my phone and put $100 on a horse I know nothing about to win at South Korea Seoul Friday, or on the next random Keno drawing in the Kentucky Lottery, but I can’t get the Grizzlies in 6 because that’s too far. Why is that too far? Nobody has a reason!

Sen. Robert Stivers, the villain in this movie, recently said sports betting “creates no energy with me.” An infuriating comment considering it’s not about him, Sen. Stivers (representing one of Kentucky’s poorest counties, I’ll add) is only concerned with the energy it creates for Sen. Stivers; not the creation of jobs, tax dollars, tourism, entertainment you can build around sports gaming, overall happiness, etc.

So what was the final vote count, you ask?

A great question. Here’s the crazy part: It didn’t go to a vote.

Now, I don’t follow the day-to-day intricacies of Kentucky politics because, frankly, it often looks like a clown show to me, but yesterday I and many others watched closely as the full Barnum & Bailey Circus tent was up for House Bill 606, the sports gaming bill, on the final day of the 2022 session.

Maybe I’m wrong, I often am, but my very basic, 8th-grade-level understanding of politics assumed bills are voted on, the majority rules, and then everyone moves on to the next issue; you know, a pretty cut-and-dry process of accomplishing things.

Schoolhouse Rock even wrote a song about it.

But in the 2022 session, HB 606 was never even brought to a vote because those who opposed didn’t want their party going on record, or worse, losing to the other side.

After conversations around Frankfort, Matt Jones broke down the math on how he thought the vote would’ve played out. Had it gone to a vote, as Schoolhouse Rock taught us, Matt expected it would’ve passed with 22 of 38 proponents, a bipartisan YES for a very popular bill.

If his numbers are off and it wouldn’t have passed, at least we’d known it got its fair shot in the chamber.

Instead, the bill that passed the house for the first time last month and had full support from the governor, never got its chance in the Senate because Stivers, the Senate President, didn’t feel a need to get a count. He just wasn’t feeling it yesterday, or any other day. Not in the mood. “Not enough energy” for him down there in Clay County. He and Seersucker Nixon had library fights to win.

Damon Thayer, the Senate Floor Leader who wants you to believe he is for sports gambling in Kentucky, also could’ve done more to bring it to a vote.

But HB 606 failed for a fourth year, short of even learning where it stood.

So what now?

Me, I’ll keep losing my money to Costa Rica or wherever the offshore websites are based. I probably bought some shady guy in the Caribbean a boat or two by now, maybe a small house. Many of you reading this have, too.

Kentuckians in the 49 counties that touch a neighboring state will continue to drive across the state line, to park in the closest parking lot so they can submit a bet via phone, only to turn right back around to go home. It’s so advanced now, gambling apps/sites use exact geolocation so all you have to do is cross into Indiana or Tennessee or one of our adjoining states, send that money in seconds, then go U-turn back to Kentucky. Crazy, right? It happens daily, more than you probably realize. Some stay for dinner to watch the game they bet on; some go as far as making a weekend of it. More money lost to our neighbors, money that could easily stay right here in the good ol’ Commonwealth.

And it’s a lot of money. Last year our neighbors made a combined $173.1 million in sports gambling taxes and that number is only going to grow and grow with the booming industry. Couldn’t Kentucky use a little bit of that money? Absolutely.

As for if and when this will ever change in Kentucky, it will realistically be another two years before HB 606 gets a fair shot at the Kentucky General Assembly. Andy Sweeney twisted the knife by pointing out how far behind Kentucky will already be by then, assuming it even gets a green light by 2024.

As Andy notes, IF Kentucky passes sports gambling in two years, the state will already be significantly behind all of our neighbors. West Virginia will already be six years in, everywhere else will be a couple of years in at least. That’s not even counting the time it will take to get things up and running in the Bluegrass IF it even passes.

This past month, Kentucky could’ve taken an easy step forward; not a step too far ahead or anything unreasonable, just a wittle baby step up to the line where all seven neighbors are standing, where 43 of 50 states are already booming or on their way. But our government didn’t even put it up for a vote. A VOTE!

I guess we’ll keep funneling our money to the Hoosiers and the Vols, or whatever country keeps taking it via the internet. I’m pretty sure I’m right about it being Costa Rica. It doesn’t matter. It’s not Kentucky.

Rest in peace, House Bill 606.

John Cox / @CoxTalks