Will sports wagering ever be legal here? Don’t bet on it

Published 5:31 am Tuesday, January 31, 2023

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What could you do with $68 million or so? Better yet, what could Kentucky do with another $68 million?

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The clear answer is: A lot.

That is how much the state of Tennessee collected last year in tax revenue generated by legal sports wagering.

Of that $68 million, about 80 percent, or $54 million, is funneled to educational initiatives throughout Tennessee. Kentucky’s neighbor to the north, Ohio, just passed legalized sports gambling during the recent November election. It is unclear how much revenue Ohio will generate from sports wagering, but with 12 million residents compared with Tennessee’s 7 million, it’s a safe bet (get it?) that the Buckeye State will surpass $68 million.

The Ohio law says 98 percent of the revenue generated by sports gambling will be spent on various public and non-public education initiatives.

That is a lot of money for Ohio schools.

In Indiana, where casinos have been operating on water and on land since the 1990s, legalized gambling of all kinds generated $58.5 million in tax revenue — just in December.

Although Kentucky’s population of 4.5 million is dwarfed by many of its neighbors, it is clear that there is money to be made, and that would be a good thing for Kentucky schools.

In years past, the bailout for Kentuckians when discussing the country’s best and worst public education systems has always been “Well, at least there is Mississippi” to prevent schools here from being ranked dead last.

Things are somewhat better now, but with a No. 36 ranking (yes, it’s subjective) by U.S. News, there still is room for improvement.

Additional revenue, and a lot of it, will not fix all of the problems facing Kentucky schools, but it will fix a lot of them by providing programs and resources that schools and teachers currently do not have – nor do their students. And isn’t that who this is all about? The children of Kentucky who will become the state’s next generation of business leaders and entrepreneurs, scientists and doctors, elected leaders, parents and teachers? Shouldn’t the state be focused on doing everything possible to give them the leg up they need to be successful in the future?

The answer is a resounding yes.

Is the state doing everything it can to accomplish that goal?

The answer is an overwhelming hell to the no.

Each time the topic of legalized sports wagering in Kentucky comes up for discussion in Frankfort, it does not get shouted down. It gets ignored completely.

Robert Stivers has been president of the Kentucky Senate for the past decade, and is considered the main roadblock to legalized gambling. His district, Kentucky’s 25th, includes Clay, Jackson, Knox, McCreary, Owsley and Whitley counties, which are among the poorest in the state.

Various polls indicate that the majority of Kentuckians (65 percent to nearly 75 percent depending on the poll) favor legalized gambling.

Each time the subject comes up in Frankfort it goes nowhere. N’er a vote.

All because of one man.

When you repeatedly elect the same people and policies, at some point you get what you deserve.

Kentucky’s historic legacy is tied to three unique industries: tobacco, thoroughbred horse racing and bourbon, none of which will ever be confused with bible binding. It is ironic that a state that embraces its historic ties to what many would consider vices draws the line at “UK plus-13 at Tennessee.”

Will things ever change?

Don’t bet it – oh wait, you can’t.

John Reitman is regional editor for Bluegrass Newsmedia.