Kentucky Sportsbooks Welcome First Wagers

Posted on: September 7, 2023, 04:08h. 

Last updated on: September 7, 2023, 04:27h.

On Thursday, Gov. Andy Beshar placed a three-way parlay to kick off legal sports betting in Kentucky, as retail sportsbooks opened their doors across the Bluegrass State.

Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear delivers remarks at Churchill Downs
Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear delivers remarks at Churchill Downs prior to placing the first legal sports bet in the state on Sept. 7. The governor has made legal sports betting a key plank in his reelection campaign. 

Beshar’s wager carried a whiff of home-state politicking, with Election Day just two months away. The Democratic incumbent has made legalization of sports wagering a central plank in his pitch to voters.

The governor bet $20 on the parlay, wagering that the universities of Louisville and Kentucky would both hit the over on wins for the football season, and that their perennial rival, Duke, would hit the under.

“Today is a great day to celebrate and have a little bit of fun doing so,” Beshear said in a statement. “It has taken many years to get here, but sports wagering is finally a reality in Kentucky. This is a win-win for Kentuckians, who can enjoy a quality entertainment experience and benefit from funds staying right here in our state to help us build a better Kentucky.”

Beshar placed his first bet Thursday morning at Churchill Downs in Louisville, and later in the afternoon placed another bet at the Red Mile in Lexington.

The governor signed the new bipartisan sports betting law in March, and put its implementation on a fast track in order to allow bets to be placed in time for the start of the NFL season. While in-person wagering began Thursday at horse tracks and off-site facilities around Kentucky, mobile sportsbooks will not begin taking bets until Sept. 28.

Election Season

The governor has frequently touted his support for the sports betting law, and lists it among his top accomplishments, alongside things like legalizing medical marijuana, investing in clean drinking water, and expanding broadband access.

Beshar’s opponent in this year’s election is Republican Attorney General Daniel Cameron, whose campaign has heavily focused on conservative culture war attacks. During a GOP primary debate in March, before the new law passed, Cameron said he “didn’t think much” of sports betting, but would support legalization with the proper regulatory framework.

A Cameron spokesman tried to downplay Beshar’s role in sports betting. “The legislature deserves the credit for moving this ball down the field. Beshear once again is trying to take credit for this victory when all he did was cheer from the sidelines,” Sean Southard, a Cameron campaign spokesman, said in a statement to the Associated Press.

Beshar said he worked closely with the Kentucky legislature. “They all know the truth,” Beshear said of the criticism, according to the AP. “It’s just an election season. But why don’t we all just be happy today. Sports betting is legal in Kentucky. Let’s not play politics with it.”

Whether the advent of sports betting helps Beshar in November remains to be seen. But the jockeying over how much credit the governor deserves suggests both parties see the issue as a winner.

In the political betting markets, Beshar has a clear leg up. Shares in a Democratic victory in Kentucky were trading for 72 cents on PredictIt.

Economic Impact

Kentucky’s new law is estimated to raise at least $23 million per year, the bulk of which will go toward public pensions. A newly created problem gambling fund will receive 2.5% of the proceeds.

In-person wagers, like those being placed on Thursday, will be taxed at a rate of 9.75%, while mobile sportsbooks will be taxed at a 14.25% rate later this month when they start operating.