Kentucky Sports Betting Efforts Fall Short Again, But It Could Be A Good Thing

A bill to legalize sports wagering in the state of Kentucky failed for another year, as resistance to the proposal from socially conservative lawmakers again appeared to be too great, in addition to other legislative priorities in the short, odd-numbered-year session.

The bill, HB 241, was introduced in January and never cleared any of the early hurdles in the legislative process. A proposal in 2020 made some advancement, but it ultimately fell short, with the pandemic said to have played a role in its failure.

Kentucky’s legislative session ended last week with no progress on the concept of sports betting. Kentucky still has not hashed out all the details for a final proposal, as the legislative process should involve plenty of tweaking and compromise. There are many legal gambling opponents in the state.

The proposal also would legalize online poker under the regulation of the Kentucky Lottery.

Right now, Kentuckians can travel into neighboring Indiana, Illinois, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia to wager on sports via the internet. Kentucky, though, does allow betting on horse races online.

Why it could be a good thing that Kentucky has stalled

The Kentucky bill calls for allowing people aged 18 and over to gamble on sports, which would make it an outlier in the nascent U.S. sports betting industry — only four states and the District of Columbia allow sports wagering at that age, and 21 is the typical legal age for casino-style gambling. Twenty-one is also the legal age in the bordering sports-betting states.

The idea to allow 18-year-olds to bet legally has been on the table since the efforts began in Kentucky in the wake of the 2018 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that struck down the federal sports betting prohibition.

It is a libertarian-esque argument in Kentucky, with the thinking that if you are old enough to go off to war (and die) you should be allowed to gamble legally.

However, more and more research backs up the premise that it is not a good idea to allow teenagers to gamble on sports legally.

Recent research from the National Council on Problem Gambling, which was conducted in late 2018 but just released last month, unsurprisingly found further evidence that problem gambling is associated with younger individuals. Sports betting could be particularly risky in this regard.

“There is a strong relationship between problematic behavior and age, with younger players far more likely to report potentially problematic play,” the report stated. “At one extreme, only half of those under the age of 35 answered ‘not in the past year’ to each of the four indicators [of problem gambling]  compared to 90 percent of those 65 or older. And one out of four respondents under 35 reported experiencing at least three of the four indicators in the past year compared to fewer than one percent of those 65 or older.

“Most notably, 19 percent of those between 18 and 24 answered ‘many times’ to at least one of the four indicators compared to 2 percent or less for each age group over the age of 54.”

It is unclear if Kentucky’s sports betting bill stands any chance of becoming law with the 18-year-old betting age, but even if it could, it is a very risky idea, according to research.

With the delay in passing legislation, Kentucky policymakers should have more information on an appropriate legal age.