New Bill Opens Door for Regulated Online Poker in Kentucky

KentuckyA new bill in Kentucky aims to amend the state´s existing gambling laws and penal code to facilitate regulated sports betting, fantasy sports, and online poker.

The new bill introduced by Rep. Adam Koenig (HB 175) is a lot different from the usual type of legislative bill associated with online gambling. Rather than include long-winded introductions, definitions, and explanations, Koenig has kept his proposals short and sweet with the focus on amending Kentucky´s existing laws so that more detailed proposals can be introduced at a later date.

Basically, all the bill consists of is the creation of a new Chapter in Kentucky´s Revised Statutes to cover regulated fantasy sports, the amendment of existing Chapters to accommodate regulated sports betting and online poker, and the exemption of fantasy sports, sports betting, and online poker from the list of prohibited activities that could get you in trouble with the state´s penal code.

There are no licensing fees, tax rates, or suitability standards mentioned, nor – interesting – any references to online casinos. It looks as if the horseracing industry will be given the responsibility for sorting these issues out for sports betting operators, while the responsibility for fantasy sports and online poker will be handed to the state lottery – assuming the bill is passed.

Koenig´s Bill Goes Further than Its Predecessors

By including fantasy sports and online poker, Koenig´s bill goes further than two other bills already introduced into Kentucky´s Senate that exclusively tackle sports betting. Furthermore, due to the inclusion of fantasy sports and online poker, Koenig is factoring Internet betting into his proposals – a step forward from the “don´t-know-what-we´re-going-to-do-about-that” approach of the Senate bills.

Quite possibly, Koenig has drawn encouragement from a recent press release issued by Kentucky´s Attorney General, Andy Beshear. In the press release, Beshear commented that by expanding gambling, a source of revenue could be created to support the state´s pension scheme, which would then free up funds to support increased education and health care spending, and fight the state´s opioid epidemic.

This is not the first time Beshear has advocated for the regulation of sports betting, fantasy sports, and online poker (and online casinos as well). Last November Beshear sent a letter to state legislators (PDF) in both the House and the Senate asking them to pass legislation to expand gambling in Kentucky and fund the state´s pension scheme – noting that Kentuckians were crossing into neighboring states to gamble an estimated $1 billion annually.

Is the Future Bright for Regulated Online Poker in Kentucky?

Not in the short term, and possibly not in the long term either. Notwithstanding the DOJ´s revised Wire Act opinion, Kentucky´s population of 4.5 million is about half that of the bigger states to regulate online poker, so a ring-fenced market would have little chance of surviving. Added to that is the fact that many offshore poker sites don´t accept players from Kentucky; so whereas states that have already regulated online poker had an unregulated market to tap into, that´s not the case in Kentucky.

It will however be interesting to see how Koenig´s bill progresses compared with the two already filed in the Senate as his is the only one to facilitate online poker. Possibly one of the existing Senate bills will be amended to mirror Koenig´s proposals, or possibly further bills will be introduced that have the same objectives. Players in Kentucky have been waiting long enough for a return to the virtual felt. Possibly 2019 will be the year in which they can start playing online poker once again.

Jacqueline Packett
Jacqueline Packett