FRANKFORT, Ky. (WDRB) – Kentucky lawmakers took a step toward legalizing sports betting on Wednesday with a committee voting unanimously to send House Bill 137 to the House floor.

The bill is similar to one that fell short during the 2019 legislative session, but it would now allow betting on local college sports such as Louisville and Kentucky games.

Lawmakers were not persuaded by opponents who said sports wagering constitutes a form of gambling, which is prohibited under the state constitution.

“With this bill we are going to … thumb our noses at the constitution,” said Martin Cothran of the conservative Family Foundation of Kentucky.

Cothran added that he was dismayed to see the bill moving forward in a Republican-controlled General Assembly.

“Here we are in a legislature controlled by what most everybody considers a conservative party,” he said.

But Rep. Adam Koenig, a Northern Kentucky Republican who is sponsoring the bill, said sports wagering is a “game of skill,” not one “of chance.”

Lawmakers are eager to find more tax revenue amid a projected budget shortfall of up to $1 billion for the two-year period that starts July 1.

The sports wagering bill, which would also regulate and tax fantasy sports, would generate $22.5 million in tax revenue annually, John Farris of consulting firm Commonwealth Economics told the House licensing and occupations committee on Wednesday.

“This bill is not going to solve our challenges, we know that,” said Rep. Al Gentry, D-Louisville, a co-sponsor of the bill. “But it is a good first step. Sports betting is already here, fellas and gals. We just want to regulate it and obtain the revenues that are currently leaving the state.”

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Sports betting is live in Indiana and West Virginia, while Illinois and Tennessee have legalized it and Ohio is considering doing so, Koenig told the committee.

States have acted to legalize and regulate the activity after a May 2018 U.S. Supreme Court decision cleared the way.

The Kentucky bill would allow in-person sports betting at venues owned by horse racing tracks, such as Churchill Downs and Keeneland, and authorize online providers of sports wagering.

Taxes would be about 50% higher on online wagers than in-person.

The tax revenue would go to the cost of regulation by the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission, gambling addiction services and to help pay off billions of dollars in unfunded liabilities for pensions owed to state and local government workers.

Gov. Andy Beshear, a Democrat who campaigned on full casino legalization, said encouraged lawmakers to pass sports betting during his State of the Commonwealth address Monday evening.

Business groups such as the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce also support the bill.

Reach reporter Chris Otts at 502-585-0822, cotts@wdrb.com, on Twitter or on Facebook. Copyright 2020 WDRB Media. All rights reserved.