Legalized sports betting is a sure thing for Kentucky

Jeff Neal

I'm encouraged.

On Wednesday a legislative committee strongly endorsed a bill that would legalize sports betting in Kentucky.

It's an indication that, at least on a limited scale, lawmakers are removing their heads from the sand and recognizing the need for new revenue. One estimate says sports betting would bring in at least $20 million a year in new taxes.

West Virginia has already passed a bill legalizing sports betting. If we pass our bill quickly -- and beat Tennessee, Ohio and Illinois to the punch -- we might rake in nearly $48 million before the other states fall into line and cut into our sports betting cake.

With the Kentucky pension system in the toilet and the need for additional monies to fund school security, this is a godsend.

House bill 175 would make it legal for people in Kentucky to bet on sports, but they would have to do it in person at one of the state's horse racing tracks or the Kentucky Speedway, which hosts a NASCAR race each year. People could place wagers on their phones, but they would have to travel to one of the tracks in person to download the app. Republican state Rep. Adam Koenig told The Associated Press the app would monitor locations to make sure people don't place bets outside of the state lines.

The bill would prohibit Kentuckians from betting on schools within the Commonwealth. So BBN couldn't wager on the Wildcats and fans who wear the red and black couldn't bet on the Cardinals. But other college sports teams are on the table.

The proposal would require bookmakers to pay a 9.75 percent tax on its revenue, which does not include money paid to people who win. The tax rate would be 14.25 percent for wagers made online. The proposal would also legalize fantasy sports gambling and internet poker.

In other words, it would mean big bucks for the Commonwealth.

But why stop there? Expanded gaming in the form of casino gambling would make even more sense. And it would mean even more much-needed revenue -- revenue that is now going to neighboring states.

Are there negatives?

As with any form of gambling, the far right often objects. This is no different.

Keith Ostrander, executive director of the conservative Family Foundation, told the Associated Press that sports betting could hurt some Kentucky families.

"The state should cause families to thrive, not prey on them for revenue," Ostrander said.

If that's the case, why don't we just eliminate state taxes. That would help my family.

Yes, some people are going to gamble foolishly, just like some folks drink foolishly. But a high-morality decision on this issue will just rob Kentucky's coffers. Kentuckians will gamble -- if not here, then across state lines. The revenue might as well stay here and help our programs.

With a $39 billion deficit, the Commonwealth's pension system is one of America's great failures.

Sports betting and expanded gaming is the first step to turning this thing around -- and legislators would be doing it without hurting public educators and other state employees.

It's a no-brainer -- or in gambling lingo, it's a sure thing.

JEFF NEAL is the Editor of the Commonwealth Journal. Reach him at jneal@somerset-kentucky.com. Follow him on Twitter at @jnealCJ.