LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Several Kentucky lawmakers indicated Monday they will push to legalize sports gambling after the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark ruling cleared the way for individual states to decide.

Rep. Jason Nemes, a Republican from Louisville, said in an interview with WDRB News that he was planning to meet with bill drafters Monday and pre-file a measure during the summer interim period. He would introduce the legislation when the General Assembly convenes next January.

“Hopefully Kentucky is smart enough to seize the day and get it done,” he said.

The state legislature has failed to pass expanded gambling bills over the years, including during the session that ended in April. Despite having bipartisan support, measures to legalize sports betting and casinos died in committees.

Nemes said the gambling divide has been among rural and urban legislators, while Republicans and Democrats in urban areas have generally supported casinos and similar betting initiatives.

But he noted that a number of Kentucky counties that once prohibited alcohol have lifted those restrictions in recent years.

“We’ve reached that tipping point in alcohol and I think we’re really close to reaching it in expanded gaming,” Nemes said. “I think this bill might be the catalyst for that.”

Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin has called expanded gambling a “sucker’s bet,” telling Louisville radio host Terry Meiners last fall that there is no “political appetite in Kentucky for casino gambling."

Bevin spokeswoman Elizabeth Kuhn did not immediately return a phone message seeking comment Monday afternoon.

Nemes said he’s not sure it’s “necessary” for Bevin to support expanded gambling.

“The legislature sets the policy and a veto can be overridden by just a simple majority,” he said. “And we’ve overridden a number of vetoes. I’d love to have the governor on board and help lead this effort, but if he’s not on board I think we should move forward anyway.”

In a case brought by New Jersey, the Supreme Court ruled 6-3 to overturn a 1992 law that outlawed state-sanctioned sports betting with the lone exception of Nevada. The decision lets states determine if they want to allow sports gambling.

State Sen. Julian Carroll, D-Frankfort, proposed a bill earlier this year to allow sports betting, but it stalled in a committee. He said in a statement that it is “unfortunate” that the measure didn’t pass, putting the state in a position to begin collecting new gambling revenue.

“Since pre-filing the bill in the fall, I spoke on the Senate floor to stress the importance of being ready to move forward when the court handed down its ruling and use the benefit of having this new revenue to fund our pension systems and education,” Carroll said. “We could have been in front of this issue had we acted in the last session.”

But Morgan McGarvey, a Democratic Senator from Louisville, said it’s not too late for Kentucky to act and plans to join in support of sports betting. McGarvey sponsored a bill in 2018 that sought to amend the state constitution to allow casino gambling, but he doesn’t believe such an amendment is needed for sports wagering.

“We need to go ahead and set up this framework so that we can quickly begin collecting the revenue that people are already betting in Kentucky,” McGarvey said in an interview. “We know sports gambling is going on right now. We don’t need to be the last state to do this. Let’s get on the forefront. Let’s put something in place that allows sports gambling.”

The revenue could be used to fund “any one of the number of needs Kentucky currently has,” he said.

The Family Foundation of Kentucky, which has opposed expanded gambling in the state, warned in a statement of the gambling industry’s “headlong pursuit” of people’s money.  

Kent Ostrander, the foundation’s executive director, said the “gambling industry focuses on ways to separate their patrons from their assets and acquire them.”

“Fortunately, our General Assembly has a history of protecting Kentucky citizens from the many proposals to radically expand gambling,” he said. “I am confident that their priority will be protecting our citizens, as opposed to first promoting the ‘rights’ of the gambling industry.”

Nemes said he respects such arguments but ultimately disagrees with them. Gambling in other states has resulted in “tremendous benefits” from revenue spent on roads, schools and other infrastructure, he said.

Besides wagering on horse racing, Kentucky allows gambling through a state lottery that includes a keno game. 

The high court's ruling stands to change horse racing's status as the only type of betting that is available in most of the U.S. With states able to regulate sports wagering, "our multi-billion dollar industry must rise to the challenge and seize the opportunities presented by the expansion of sports betting," said Alex Waldrop, president and CEO of the National Thoroughbred Racing Association. 

Louisville-based Churchill Downs Inc. is aware of the Supreme Court's decision and "will be assessing it over the next few days," Churchill spokesman John Asher said in a statement.

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