Kentucky

Sports Betting in Kentucky

It’s obvious that one form of gambling is legal in the Bluegrass State.  Kentucky is synonymous with horse racing and the Kentucky Derby. All aspects of the thoroughbred racing industry are big business in Kentucky and it’s also the primary driver of tourism dollars into the state.  Kentucky gained statehood in 1792 and not long after strict anti-gambling legislation was added to their constitution with the main target being the many privately run (and often crooked) lotteries which were popular at the time.  Parimutuel betting has been legal throughout, however, which makes Kentucky a strange juxtaposition of horse racing enthusiasts and fundamentalist Christian moralists.

The first Kentucky Derby was run in 1875 and remains among the premier events in the sport.  For the most part, horse racing has been ingrained in Kentucky’s culture though in the 1930s a group of ‘Bible thumpers’ mounted a legal challenge to stop the sport and betting on it.  Their argument was a flimsy one—that parimutuel wagering should be illegal under the constitutional mandate banning lotteries. The fundamentalist busybodies were determined—and well funded—and took their fight all the way to the Kentucky Supreme Court which ruled against them.

Today, the sport is regulated by an independent government agency called the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission(KHRC).  The KHRC is responsible for regulating both the conduct of horse racing and parimutuel wagering. They run a toll free ‘integrity hotline’ to take tips on any activity that would violate state regulations and are likely the most influential state racing oversight group in the United States.  Kentucky has five thoroughbred race tracks in operation—Churchill Downs, Keeneland, Kentucky Downs, Turfway Park and Ellis Park. There are also two standard bred harness racing tracks—Bluegrass Downs and The Red Mile. Off track wagering is legal under Kentucky parimutuel regulations though there are no locations of this sort currently operating in the state.  Deposit wagering betting is legal in the state and provided by companies such as the Churchill Downs owned Twin Spires and TVG.

Casino gambling is illegal in Kentucky with few exceptions.  Charitable ‘casino nights’ with minimal prizes are permitted but for a full casino gaming experience Kentucky residents usually head to Ohio or Indiana for action at riverboat and tribal casinos.  The other exception is a big one—slot machines based on historical racing results are permitted ‘on track’. Initially, these games looked like self service wagering kiosks but have evolved to more closely resemble ‘Class 2’ slot machines—only instead of the results being derived from a ‘bingo game’ they’re determined by a ‘historical horse race’.  For this reason, they have been very controversial though for the time being at least they’ve become part of the gaming mix at Kentucky horse tracks. Several thousand historical racing games are in operation throughout the state at Ellis Park, Red Mile and Kentucky Downs. In Summer 2018, heavyweight Churchill Downs joined the fray with 900 historical racing machines at their ‘Derby City’ facility.

Kentucky has had a lottery since 1988 with a fairly generic product mix including draw games (with the ubiquitous Powerball and MegaMillions) and scratch offs.  To their credit, they have a fairly extensive online offering. Players can buy tickets for draw games, play keno every 4 minutes and play an assortment of video game style ‘instant win’ contests.   

Despite a generally hostile environment toward most non horse racing forms of gambling, there have been signs that Kentucky wants to quickly get into the sports betting business.  A proposal has been floated to allow the state’s racing commission to take responsibility for sports betting oversight. This isn’t a bad idea on the surface but the bill promoted by state Senator Julian M. Carroll has a high tax rate and licensing fee and some laughably bad ideas such as allowing representatives of pro sports leagues to serve on the racing commission.

Sports Betting in Louisville

It’s obvious that one form of gambling is legal in Louisville. The city’s Churchill Downs track is synonymous with horse racing and the Kentucky Derby. All aspects of the thoroughbred racing industry are big business in Kentucky and it’s also the primary driver of tourism dollars into the state. There is a downside to that dominant industry being such a big economic player in Kentucky—they have a lot of political clout to keep competing forms of gambling at bay.

The first Kentucky Derby was run in 1875 and remains among the premier events in the sport. Today, the sport is regulated by an independent government agency called the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission(KHRC). The KHRC is responsible for regulating both the conduct of horse racing and parimutuel wagering. They run a toll free ‘integrity hotline’ to take tips on any activity that would violate state regulations and are likely the most influential state racing oversight group in the United States. Kentucky has five thoroughbred race tracks in operation—Churchill Downs, Keeneland, Kentucky Downs, Turfway Park and Ellis Park. There are also two standard bred harness racing tracks—Bluegrass Downs and The Red Mile. Off track wagering is legal under Kentucky parimutuel regulations though there are no locations of this sort currently operating in the state. Deposit wagering betting is legal in the state and provided by companies such as the Churchill Downs owned Twin Spires and TVG.

Casino gambling is illegal in Kentucky with few exceptions. The other exception is a big one—slot machines based on historical racing results are permitted ‘on track’. Initially, these games looked like self service wagering kiosks but have evolved to more closely resemble ‘Class 2’ slot machines—only instead of the results being derived from a ‘bingo game’ they’re determined by a ‘historical horse race’.

At one point, historical racing machines (HRM’s) actually resembled something that might be seen at a horse track. Over the past decade, however, they’ve experienced an evolution similar to that of the ‘Class 2’ bingo type slot machine where it’s easy to forget that there’s even a bingo component involved. Today’s historic horse racing gambling devices give a similar experience—it looks and plays just like a slot machine but at a fundamental level the betting is parimutuel and the outcomes are determined by old horse races.

For this reason, they have been very controversial though for the time being at least they’ve become part of the gaming mix at Kentucky horse tracks. Several thousand historical racing games are in operation throughout the state at Ellis Park, Red Mile and Kentucky Downs. In Summer 2018, they came to Louisville in a big way as heavyweight Churchill Downs joined the fray with 900 historical racing machines at their ‘Derby City’ facility. Louisville is within driving distance of gaming rich jurisdictions including Indiana, Ohio, Illinois and Missouri. It’s not a bad drive from Louisville to West Virginia where the casinos are in the process of adding sports betting to the menu of options.

Despite a generally hostile environment toward most non horse racing forms of gambling, there have been signs that Kentucky wants to quickly get into the sports betting business. A proposal has been floated to allow the state’s racing commission to take responsibility for sports betting oversight. This isn’t a bad idea on the surface but the bill promoted by state Senator Julian M. Carroll has a high tax rate and licensing fee and some laughably bad ideas such as allowing representatives of pro sports leagues to serve on the racing commission.

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