Kentucky Wants to Launch Sports Betting Market by September’s Football Season

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Kentucky has become the 38th state to legalize sports betting, as House Bill 551 passed at the end of March. Now lawmakers in the Bluegrass State are looking to get a fully operational market set up in time for the start of the National Football League’s regular season in September 2023.

Available by Football Season

The new bill, signed into law on March 30 by Governor Andy Beshear, allows six months for regulators to draft new laws and license operators to take sports bets in the state. However, there is some suggestion things could move even faster,

Senator Damon Thayer (R-Georgetown) told reporters that Chairman Jonathan Rabinowitz of the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission, or KHRC, wants to expedite the process.

“He [Rabinowitz] knows that the public would love to be able to bet on football this fall, and he told me that he and the racing commission are going to work with the racetracks and the online providers to try to have one or the other available by football season,” Thayer said.

The legalization bill doesn’t actually come into law until the 29th of June, so regulators cannot put contracts out to tender or finalize anything until then. The NFL regular season starts on September 7, giving the state just three months from then (give or take) to hit this ambitious launch target.

Potential Time Lines

For his part, Governor Beshear was not completely committed to that date. At a press conference last Friday, he acknowledged that the football season was a “big starting date for people.” But he also said that above all, they “want to get it right.”

One way to understand how long these processes can take is to look at the time line for legalization to launch in other states that have previously done so.

The quickest state to do so was Michigan, where legal sportsbooks at casinos in the state opened for bets just 83 days after legalization was set into law.

The slowest was Tennessee, who enacted their Sports Gaming Act on July 1, 2019. However, they didn’t see a bet taken in the state until November 2020 – a year and a half afterwards.

Ready to Go

So there is a precedent for regulators to act very quickly once a new state bill is passed. In the case of Kentucky, the KHRC already has a head start, as the state’s nine racetracks have been anticipating legal gambling for years.

The state’s largest racetrack venue, Churchill Downs (home of the famous Kentucky Derby), considers itself well-prepared already for the launch of any legal market.

“All of our facilities throughout the state were designed with this possibility in mind, and will be ready to offer sports betting under the regulations and timing of the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission,” the racetrack operator said in a statement.

What form those regulations may take though is yet unclear. The state’s racecourses may have to partner with national operators for online betting, or not. Each racecourse and any potential partners will need to apply for licenses, and the terms of these licensing agreements will need to be set out by the KHRC.

Will esports be part of the legislation? Will online betting be allowed from the get-go, or only physical in-person betting first,and then online later? Or the other way round?

As well as those questions and others, Kentucky will also need to meet federal laws and requirements before launch.

The somewhat antiquarian Wire Act of 1961, for example, makes it illegal to transmit sports betting information across state lines. That means geofencing and location technology has to be a part of online sportsbook operations in any legal state.

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