Kentucky has seen the introduction of numerous sports betting bills, but none has yet managed to make it past the finish line and become law. However, recent Kentucky sports betting efforts have elicited the support of numerous lawmakers and Governor Andy Beshear. In all likelihood, it is just a matter of time before Kentuckians have access to legal sportsbooks and betting sites.
Currently, legal forms of online gambling in Kentucky include parimutuel horse racing betting, daily fantasy sports and online lottery games. The Bluegrass State is also home to numerous horse racing tracks, including the famous Churchill Downs, home of the Kentucky Derby.
Kentucky is home to a strong anti-gambling expansion contingent of lobbyists, but the momentum seems to be on the side of lawmakers who would like to legalize retail sportsbooks and online sports betting. Lawmakers have also expressed an interest in passing legislation to authorize online poker.
Legal Kentucky Betting Sites
Horse and Greyhound Betting:
Sports Betting in Kentucky
Kentucky does not yet have legal sports betting, but that is looking increasingly likely to change with each passing year. Shortly after the Supreme Court overturned PASPA, Kentucky formed a bipartisan panel consisting of six representatives and three senators to study legalization and then craft legislation to that end.
Since then, lawmakers have filed numerous pieces of legislation that would legalize retail sportsbooks and mobile sports betting in Kentucky. None of those bills have made it into law, but the sheer number of efforts indicates a clear desire among lawmakers to legalize sports betting.
Kentucky sports betting also has the support of Governor Any Beshear, which clears one important hurdle for any bill that is approved by the legislature: acquiring the signature from the governor. With the support of numerous lawmakers and the governor, the odds of legal sports betting coming to Kentucky look good.
Fantasy Sports Sites in Kentucky
The major fantasy sports sites operate in Kentucky due to the prevailing interpretation of Kentucky gambling law being favorable to DFS. The next step for Kentucky fantasy sites is to achieve firm legal clarity with the passage of DFS legislation.
Lawmakers attempted to do exactly that with HB 414 introduced in February of 2017. That bill made it to a full house vote and received a favorable vote of 37-36 but came up short of the 40 votes required to send that bill to the Senate.
If successful, HB 414 would have been an excellent bill for the daily fantasy industry. It sought initial licensing and annual renewal fees of just $5,000 and established a tax rate of 6%. Furthermore, if the tax bill for the year came out to more than $5,000, the initial registration or annual renewal fee could be used to offset taxes due for the year.
HB 414 and subsequent bills attached to sports betting legislation have all failed to make it through the legislative process to become law. The lack of success today seems to come down more to legal wrangling over sports betting and other provisions to which recent DFS efforts have been attached. In any case, the country’s most well-known fantasy sites operate as normal in Kentucky today.
Horse Racing Betting in Kentucky
Kentucky, home of Churchill Downs and the famed Kentucky Derby, has a long and rich horse racing tradition that runs strong to this day.
Whether it is the climate and geography that makes for naturally strong horses as some claim or a tradition born of necessity at a time when parimutuel wagering was stifled elsewhere that makes Kentucky a horse racing bastion as others claim, the fact is the Bluegrass State houses some of the best horse racing in the world.
Today, the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission (KHRC) oversees parimutuel wagering and horse racing across the state. Multiple racetracks operate throughout Kentucky and the state houses major events such as the Kentucky Derby, Kentucky Oaks, Clark Handicap and Blue Grass Stakes.
Visitors to any of the state’s licensed racetracks may place wagers in-person while everyone else can bet online through any of the several racing betting sites that are licensed to do business in Kentucky.
Off-Track Betting Locations (OTBs) in Kentucky
The last remaining OTBs in Kentucky closed in 2013 to put an end to off-track betting. However, horse racing fans may still visit mobile betting sites or any of the state’s racetracks to place wagers on races held in Kentucky and around the country.
Advance Deposit Wagering (ADW) in Kentucky
The KHRC licenses online betting sites (ADWs) such as TwinSpires and BetAmerica to offer mobile betting to customers in Kentucky. The major horse racing websites all operate in Kentucky today to offer customers online wagering from anywhere in state lines.
In 2016, the KHRC approved a new rule requiring each licensed ADW to secure a bond equal to 125% the average daily account balance of its in-state customers. This rule is intended to ensure the security of customer funds and was passed despite some concerns that out-of-state ADWs would choose to forgo Kentucky licensing but continue operating in the state.
Licensed Racetracks in Kentucky
A list of racetracks organized by type can be found at the KHRC website here. These tracks host live racing, simulcast wagering and in some cases, historical horse racing machines that operate in a manner similar to slots.
Currently, active racetracks in Kentucky include:
Online Gambling in Kentucky
Kentucky has flirted with legalizing online poker, but legal online casinos still appear to be a long way off. Bills introduced in 2019 and 2020 noted primarily for authorizing mobile sports betting also included provisions to legalize online poker for customers 18 or older and located within state lines.
Key provisions found in the 2020 online poker bill included:
- Minimum age of 18 to play online
- $250,000 licensing fee for operators
- $10,000 annual renewal fee
- 6.75% tax on poker revenue
Recent poker bills have failed to pass, but lawmakers appear intent on pushing the issue until something gets through, likely by attaching online poker to a sports betting bill.
The recent about-face regarding online poker may come as a surprise for players who remember when Kentucky seized the domains of 141 offshore poker and gambling websites. Although most states do not permit online gambling, Kentucky was a frontrunner when it came to cracking down on offshore operators.
More recently, state lawmakers are interested in legalizing, regulating and taxing online poker than in banning the activity altogether. However, pro-online poker proponents in Kentucky still face significant opposition from anti-gambling groups that lobby against legalization.
Kentucky Online Lottery
The Kentucky Lottery took its games online in April, 2016 with little fanfare in order to keep up with the times. Kentucky Lottery CEO Arch Gleason explained the rationale behind the decision in simple terms:
“Our customers are aging, and in order to maintain our business, we need to be more attractive to a younger demographic who are accustomed to conducting a majority of their retail purchases online. This group is very mobile, and they expect brands to be accessible online and on their devices. We’re delivering what they want.”
Initially, the Kentucky Online Lottery (see our review here) launched with five instant play scratch-off games and access to the most popular draw games. Over time, the website added additional games to bring the total up to more than 50 instant win games plus access to Powerball, Mega Millions, Keno, Cash Ball 225 and Lucky for Life.
State residents 18 and older with a valid KY address can play online by visiting the official Kentucky Lottery website at play.kylottery.com. From there, you can register for an account and then fund your online wallet via credit card, debit card or by visiting an authorized lottery retailer to purchase iGifts or iFunds.
Purchasing entries to draw games online is as simple as buying them in person. Once you have a funded online lottery account, you can log in from your desktop or mobile device to choose a game, choose your numbers and specify a number of entries to purchase. All ticket prices are the same online as they are at local retailers.
The Kentucky Lottery’s instant win games work similarly to scratch cards that are sold across the state. Although everything happens online, the basic mechanics are the same. You buy a ticket, “scratch” it off using your mouse or mobile device and win prizes for matching symbols. Online scratchers can be purchases for prices ranging from $0.50 to $10 and can pay as much as $150,000.
Gambling Laws in Kentucky
Kentucky’s general gaming laws are covered by KY Rev Stat § 528.010-0.120 and prohibit most forms of gambling that are not expressly authorized by the state. In Kentucky, gambling is defined as follows:
…staking or risking something of value upon the outcome of a contest, game, gaming scheme, or gaming device which is based upon an element of chance, in accord with an agreement or understanding that someone will receive something of value in the event of a certain outcome…
Kentucky gambling law does not appear to target those who merely participate in unauthorized gambling, but the state does aggressively pursue those who organize illegal gambling games.
The crime of “promoting gambling” constitutes a chargeable offense under Kentucky law and the penalty depends on the amount of money involved.
Those who organize home poker games, act as bookmakers or otherwise profit from gambling activity can be charged for promoting gambling in the second degree, which is considered a Class A misdemeanor. If the unauthorized gambling activity takes in more than $500 in any one day, the offense is treated as a Class D felony.
State law does provide an exception for social gambling games, however, as long as all players compete on equal footing and the organizer does not earn a profit by indirect means such as charging an entry fee or selling food and drinks.