Is Sports Betting Legal in Kentucky?

Residents of the state of Kentucky will have to wait at least another year before they can bet on their favorite sports teams at local land-based sports books.

It is unlikely that legal sports betting will be an option any time soon as the legislature didn’t move on any of the state’s five proposals before adjourning in 2019.

Overall, Kentucky's gambling laws are as restrictive as any in the country. There are no casinos in the Bluegrass State and a number of gambling proposals have failed in legislature, even though this is the home of thoroughbred racing and pari-mutuel wagering.

Those who wish to bet on the Kentucky Wildcats in March Madness or the neighboring Cincinnati Bengals in the NFL will have to join top-ranked online sites like Bovada.

State government does not seem in any rush to pass legislation like other jurisdictions allowing sports betting, even after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a federal ban on the form of gambling in May 2018.

Betting Laws in Kentucky

Almost 4.5 million people live in the state of Kentucky, a southeastern state bounded by the Ohio River in the north and the Appalachian Mountains in the east. Frankfort is the state capital, while Louisville is the largest city with a population of more than 600,000 residents.

Gambling laws in Kentucky — whether it's the betting on the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs or playing in an office pool on March Madness — are regulated at the state level.

All legalized gambling in Kentucky is limited to the following areas:

  • Pari-mutuel wagering
  • Lottery
  • Social gambling
  • Charitable gambling

The minimum gambling age is 18 years old for all legal forms of gambling, including the lottery and horse racing.

Casinos

There are three racetrack casinos in Kentucky that offer some form of casino gambling. However, there are no traditional slot machines in these venues as they are illegal within the state. Instead, they all offer instant racing betting machines.

Some would say they're just bending the strict rules against casino gambling, but these gaming machines were approved not by law but by the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission that deemed that they are legal as long as they are somehow based on pari-mutuel wagering.

Four out of Kentucky's seven pari-mutuel wagering racetracks — including the iconic Churchill Downs — offer a total of 2,734 skill-based electronic gaming machines.

Horse racing

Horses have been an important part of Kentucky since the early frontiersmen came on horseback through the Cumberland Gap. Early on, the settlers began racing and breeding their horses.

The first horse races in the territory ran in the 1780s in Lexington and Louisville, despite the lack of formal tracks at that time.

Today, Kentucky takes center stage on a global scale on the first Saturday in May. The Kentucky Derby — often called the most exciting two minutes in sports — has been held at Churchill Downs since 1875.

Thirteen Triple Crown winners — including Secretariat in 1973 — have started the journey to racing glory at the famous racetrack with its twin spires.

Churchill Downs is one of the state's seven racetracks, featuring thoroughbred and harness racing. While the Louisville track is the most famous of the group, thousands of fans also travel to Lexington's Keeneland Racecourse for many other prestigious races.

The Red Mile, also in Lexington, is home to some of the fastest miles in harness racing. Always B Miki set the all-time world record of 1:46 in October 2016. The speedy mile red clay track hosts Grand Circuit events in the fall with simulcast wagering year-round.

Lottery

The Kentucky Lottery began in April 1989 after a November 1988 vote in which more than 60 per cent of voters cast ballots in favor of it. Sales soared over $5 million on the first day of play with the first two games consisting of scratch-off tickets.

The lottery has grown to multiple in-house draw games and scratch tickets. The state is also part of multi-jurisdictional games such as Lucky for Life, Mega Millions and Powerball.

Kentucky Sports Betting Laws

A bill to legalize sports betting is at the top of the stretch and turning for home, but those that live in Kentucky will have to wait a little longer before the race to the finish line is completed.

“Unfortunately done for this year,” Republican lawmaker Adam Koenig said. “Will be back next year to get it done.”

Like previous attempts to expand gambling in Kentucky, the measure received plenty of support but the issue isn't a sure thing just yet.

“With this past session, I don’t think people were all that opposed to sports betting but we hadn’t really discussed the issue and the U.S. Supreme Court had yet to rule,” Senator Morgan McGarvey said.

It appears the state is ready to embrace sports betting, but many lawmakers made it clear that any legislation would have to include mobile and online sports betting.

“If we set this up, it has to be the right legislation that can stand for 100 years, not 100 days,” the senator said. “The future of gaming is on mobile devices.”

See below the top sportsbooks where you can wager online and choose the best one for you:

Kentucky's Favorite Sports Teams

While Kentucky doesn't have any major professional sports teams of its own, the university teams in Louisville and Lexington draw a ton of interest.

The Wildcats and Cardinals have made many deep runs in the NCAA basketball championships with the University of Kentucky winning the second-most titles ever with eight.

If residents of Kentucky want to take in a pro game, there are plenty of options just over state lines.

There are three NFL teams just across the border, with the Cincinnati Bengals, Tennessee Titans and Indianapolis Colts all competing in the AFC.

There are three NHL teams — St. Louis Blues, Nashville Predators and Columbus Blue Jackets — plus two MLB teams in the Cincinnati Reds and St. Louis Cardinals a short drive away.

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