Exterior photo of the Kentucky State Capitol in Frankfort.jpeg

Exterior photo of the Kentucky State Capitol in Frankfort, Ky., Wednesday, April 7, 2021. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley)

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Kentucky moved closer to legalizing sports gambling on Friday after the state House of Representatives approved a bill that would permit online and in-person betting.

Lawmakers voted 58-30 in favor of House Bill 606, which would allow wagering online, on mobile devices and at some physical locations, including those connected to horse tracks like Churchill Downs. It now heads to the Senate. 

The bipartisan bill, whose chief sponsor is Republican Rep. Adam Koenig of Erlanger, passed out of a House committee earlier this week. Keonig led similar efforts in 2019 and 2020 that advanced to the House floor but died there.

Keonig and backers of expanded gambling have mobilized this year with recent public polling showing it has broad support among Democrats and Republicans. The GOP controls supermajorities in both chambers of the General Assembly. 

Speaking on the House floor, Keonig said estimates call for the state's pension systems to receive at least $22.5 million annually in gambling revenue. 

Co-sponsor Rep. Al Gentry, a Louisville Democrat, said people from his South End district who like to bet on sports already are doing so.

"Access is not the problem. They either do it illegally, or they simply go across the bridge (to Indiana) and do it there," he said. 

Opponents of the bill argue that expanding gambling will hurt families and isn't the best way to produce new revenue for the state. 

"There's further evidence that even advocates for the expansion of gambling understand that there will be victims and destruction to families and communities across our commonwealth," David Walls, executive director of the The Family Foundation said in a statement after the vote. "More broken families increased divorce and untold additional social costs."

Several lawmakers echoed those concerns during the debate on the House floor.

"We have in our society today an amazing self-control issue," said Rep. Josh Calloway, R-Livingston. Sports gambling will "put things out in front of the people in the state of Kentucky that causes them to indulge without self-control." 

Calloway attempted to amend HB 606 to place a $1,000 limit on individual bettor's losses in a 24-hour period when wagering online. Keonig pushed back, saying in part that some online operators already have some of those safeguards in place. 

But Koenig also said people should be able to choose how to spend their money.

"I trust people," he said. "And what we're doing with this bill largely is to trust people -- adults -- to make adult decisions."

The House voted down Calloway's amendment. 

The legislation would permit sports gambling regulated by the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission and offered by a licensed track or "professional sports venue" with at least 50,000 seats — a nod to the Kentucky Speedway in Sparta — and via a smartphone or online app. 

Tracks like Churchill Downs could have sportsbooks at up to two of its facilities. Besides its flagship Central Avenue track, Churchill operates a slots-like historical horse racing parlor called Derby City Gaming off Poplar Level Road and is planning to open one downtown.

The bill prohibits anyone who is participating in a sporting event to bet on it. 

Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, told Spectrum News on Friday that sports gambling "creates no energy with me," and doubted that it has much support among Republicans in his chamber. 

GOP Sen. Damon Thayer of Georgetown, the Senate's majority floor leader, said in a statement that senators will be assessing the bill's chances of passing there. 

"I am a firm supporter of sports betting and hope enough of my fellow members join me in supporting the measure so that we can join most of America in allowing it to occur," he said. 

At Derby City Gaming on Friday, Bill Vannatta said he supports the bill. "I think it’s great," he said. "Keep all the money over here.”

Another patron, Bobby Kirkpatrick, agreed. "If every other state is doing it, we might as well join."

The House also approved HB 608 on Friday. That measure would ban so-called "gray" machines that resemble slot machines. 

Friday was the 51st day of the 60-day legislative session that ends April 14.

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