“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”
This cliché, generally wrongly attributed to Albert Einstein, gets noticed for everything from addiction to poker strategy. However, this may not always be true in politics. Sometimes the way to get a bill passed is to just put it on the table until the stars align.
It seems to be the hope of Representative Adam Koenig, the main champion of game expansion in the Kentucky legislature. In a tweet yesterday, he pointed out the imminent reintroduction of its legislation on sports betting.
Koenig quoted a tweet from the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, which cited a poll showing nearly two-thirds of Kentucky voters are in favor of sports betting. To this he added:
“It’s time to #makeKY34”
This hashtag refers to the fact that 33 other states have already legalized sports betting in one form or another.
Koenig has already tried to pass such a bill in 2019, 2020 and 2021. Every effort ended in failure, with the last year dying very quickly due to COVID and other headwinds.
Assuming this year’s bill is similar to previous ones – and it looks like it will be – it could include regulated online poker. Koenig has generally included poker as he is a personal fan of it. However, sports betting is the biggest priority in terms of tax revenue. If the elimination of poker were necessary to make sports betting pass, there is no doubt that this is what would happen.
Complete iGaming, including online casinos, is a no-starter in Kentucky, which hasn’t even legalized their retail equivalents.
What will help Kentucky’s effort in 2022
Many external factors affect the chances of a bill. In fact, you could say that most politics are about external factors and expecting them to align in your favor.
In some ways, 2022 looks like a good year for Kentucky’s efforts.
For starters, it’s a even number. It’s not numerology, it’s about the legislative cycle of the state. Even years are budget years, which counts for all bills that create new revenue. Since the main political reason to legalize gambling is to tax it, this includes Koenig’s efforts. Under the rules of the Kentucky legislature, these bills require a higher percentage of votes to pass in non-budget years, so even numbers are the way to go.
There is also the fact that the winds are blowing in favor of sports betting nationwide. Nearly two-thirds of states have now signed up. Being a holdout is now a more radical proposition than getting on board.
This in turn is reflected in public opinion. Even Republican voters in Kentucky are in favor of sports betting, with 58% support and only 34% opposite. Support among Democrats and independents is even stronger.
Finally, there are economic factors. State coffers have taken a hit during COVID and need to be replenished. States that offer sports betting – and especially those that offer a full range of online gambling options – benefit. During this time, six out of seven neighbors in Kentucky have now legalized it, with Missouri the only exception, and even he is considering the idea.
As it stands, sports fans in Kentucky cross the border to place bets where it’s legal. However, it is increasingly difficult to justify giving up this income.
The Case Against Success in 2022
That said, you probably wouldn’t bet on Koenig’s effort to succeed, at least not on par. There are two main reasons why there is less support in the legislature than in the general public.
First, sheer partisanship. The governor, Andy Beshear, is a Democrat, while both halves of the legislature are heavily Republican. That makes lawmakers reluctant to grant him a victory, especially on an issue that is more popular among Democratic voters than Republicans, even though the latter are more for than against. Ironically, the bill’s chances might be better with a Republican governor, despite the two parties’ respective leanings on the subject.
The second is the outsized influence of social conservatives among Republicans in Kentucky. the Family Foundation of Kentucky is staunchly anti-gambling and a major donor to Republican candidates in the state. Getting the bill through the House would require a minimum of 26 Republican votes in favor, and probably much more than that. Any Republican who does so risks having that support reduced or withdrawn.
The Senate would be an even bigger elevator, with 30 Republican senators for just 8 Democrats.
Kentuckians face a potentially long wait
Unfortunately, if the bill fails in 2022, then it probably won’t succeed in 2023. Here we are looking at the flip side of the budget years problem. If he can’t get the votes to cross the bar this year, it will only be a higher bar next time.
The states gubernatorial election is not before November 2023 That is. So there too, if the hope is that the partisan impediment will disappear, the first chance of a change of power would be for the legislature of 2024.
Add to this the regulatory formalities following legalization, which often takes close to a year.
In other words, even if 2022 is the year of legalization, a launch might not happen until 2023. And if this year’s effort fails again, then Kentuckians might wait. until 2025 or beyond place legal bets without leaving the state.
So hopefully this is the year the broken record jumps out of its problematic groove and the song can continue.