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Beshear joins GOP lawmaker to promote sports betting bill

February 6, 2020 GMT
Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear, right, and Republican state Rep. Adam Koenig, left, teamed up at a press conference on Thursday, Feb. 6, 2020, in Frankfort, Ky., to push for passage of a bill to legalize sports betting in Kentucky. The proposal cleared a House committee in mid-January but has been awaiting a vote in the full House since then. (AP Photo/ Bruce Schreiner)
Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear, right, and Republican state Rep. Adam Koenig, left, teamed up at a press conference on Thursday, Feb. 6, 2020, in Frankfort, Ky., to push for passage of a bill to legalize sports betting in Kentucky. The proposal cleared a House committee in mid-January but has been awaiting a vote in the full House since then. (AP Photo/ Bruce Schreiner)

FRANKFORT, Ky (AP) — Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear teamed up with a Republican lawmaker on Thursday in a push to build momentum to legalize sports betting in Kentucky.

Beshear and GOP Rep. Adam Koenig were joined by representatives of business, education and pension advocacy groups to call for passage of the sports wagering measure. The high-profile bill has stalled in the House since winning unanimous committee approval in mid-January.

The bill is needed to stop Kentuckians from flocking to neighboring states that allow sports betting, the governor said. Time is of the essence because other states are taking steps to legalize it, he said.

“I am tired of trailing other states,” Beshear said at a Capitol press conference. “It’s time that we get into this game and we make sure that we are keeping these dollars at home.”

Supporters of legalizing sports wagering got another boost this week when Senate Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer predicted the measure would pass the Senate.

Gambling remains a divisive issue in Kentucky. A similar bill to legalize sports betting died in last year’s legislative session. The Family Foundation warns that sports wagering would hurt families, especially those who can least afford to place losing bets. A leader of the group said he thinks opponents can block the measure, which he said is why supporters had the press conference.

“They are trying to get support from the Republican caucus that doesn’t want to go there,” said the group’s executive director, Kent Ostrander. “So they’re having a parade trying to generate that.”

Beshear said the state can regulate sports wagering in a way to “stop people from going too far.”

The governor said the bill’s passage is the “right thing to do” to generate badly needed revenue. Sports wagering would create an estimated $22 million to $25 million in yearly revenue, supporters said. The bill calls for most of the money to support chronically underfunded public pension systems. A portion of the money would support gambling addiction services.

The state lost out on a windfall last Sunday when Kentuckians crossed the border to place Super Bowl bets, the governor said. Many of those people found other reasons to spend money in those states, including to eat, he said.

“We have other states that aren’t just eating our lunch, they’re serving lunch to our people and taking those dollars, too,” Beshear said.

Koenig said the bill hasn’t been called for a vote to allow some House members to “get comfortable” with it. But he predicted the bill has enough support to pass the GOP-led House.

“Let’s give grown adults the opportunity to make their own decisions,” he said.

Other advocates for the bill at Thursday’s press conference included leaders of the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, the Fayette County Education Association and Kentucky Government Retirees, a pension advocacy group.

Meanwhile, Thayer predicted the sports wagering measure has enough support to pass the GOP-dominated Senate.

“The sports wagering bill is one of the few opportunities to not only have a bipartisan victory but also find some new funding for the budget needs that we have,” he said Thursday.

The bill would legalize betting on professional and college sports. People could place the bets at Kentucky’s horse racetracks and at the Kentucky Speedway or online through an app downloaded at the tracks. It would allow wagering on college sports teams in Kentucky — a provision that was excluded from last year’s failed bill. The new version would let people to bet on University of Kentucky and University of Louisville sporting events.

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The legislation is House Bill 137.