FRANKFORT, Ky. (I’ve always wanted to do that) — Light rain began to puddle on the steps of the Kentucky State Capitol as I made my way toward the closest door I could find. Was this the door I needed, the door where random people who don’t know what they’re doing wander in aimlessly off the streets to see how government works?
Hell I don’t know, I thought. I don’t know the Capitol building. Why would I know the Capitol building? I saw it on a field trip in like fourth grade once, but outside of that, I’ve only been in there a time or two to yell with angry, fed-up teachers.
But on Thursday afternoon I was back, this time to exercise my First Amendment right as a working member of the press, although I hadn’t called ahead and I didn’t know who or what I was looking for, or in what room or on what floor I would find it. I just knew that at 1 p.m. the governor was scheduled to address the Commonwealth on the latest with sports gambling in Kentucky. And I love sports gambling.
“Let’s get this bread.”
So there I was, sitting behind a row of television cameras in a room I had never been in before, a fish out of water, ready to hear the latest news regarding my favorite hobby. I had my tape recorder (*iPhone) in hand as Governor Andy Beshear stepped from behind a big blue curtain and up to that fancy podium with the state seal on it at exactly 1 p.m. (0 points deducted, Shannon)
“Today, I think we’re really showing what Team Kentucky can and should look like,” said Governor Beshear, who was surrounded by a group of bipartisan supporters of House Bill 137, including representatives from the KEA and the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce. He later joked that you know it is a good bill when those two are on a stage together LOL.
“We all agree that passing sports betting is the right thing to do, and we are working to help move this state forward. This is what Kentuckians expect of us in Frankfort: to come together, to roll up our sleeves and to get to work. For us, the time to act is now. It is time to pass House Bill 137.”
Beshear then lifted a piece of paper from his pocket, a $5 betting ticket on Lamar Jackson to win the NFL’s MVP award. Beshear said the winning bet belonged to the Lieutenant Governor, Jacqueline Coleman, who placed the bet in Indiana early in the NFL season; and it is one of many examples of Kentucky losing money to its neighboring states. (It’s a good thing she didn’t bet on Lamar Jackson to beat the Titans in the playoffs because that would’ve won her exactly zero dollars.)
“In fact, this past weekend we all got a reminder of what we lost out on by not having sports betting already right here in Kentucky,” Beshear said, referring to the Super Bowl, obviously.
“We have a real urgency here in Kentucky. We need new revenue to support the needs of our communities, state and especially our children, who deserve the best education and the most protection we can provide them as a state. We have an urgency to keep millions of dollars from crossing our rivers, dollars that should be supporting our needs right here in the Commonwealth.
“Let’s make sure that this time next year, we haven’t seen a whole bunch of Kentuckians across the river or to other states for their Super Bowl wagers.”
Once Super Bowl wagering can be done here at home, should that dream come true, it is estimated that sports gambling will bring in a minimum of 22 million dollars per year in Kentucky. The haters will say $22 million won’t solve the state’s pension problem, but Beshear was quick to note that $22 million will certainly help in a lot of areas of need. He listed a number of statewide programs and issues that could use the additional revenue, ranging from a four-percent increase for higher education institutions to reinstating funding for school district professional development to supporting community health care needs and staffing veteran centers and financial aid for students and so much more that I stopped writing it all down.
“22 to 25 million dollars more… those are meaningful dollars where we can meet so many needs of our people,” he said.
As good as that all sounds, and it all sounds wonderful, there is still a lot of work to be done before you or I can (legally) put our hard-earned money on things like football and basketball and Russian basketball, which I bet on last week because I was bored and it was being played at 10 a.m. and I found a bootleg video stream on some shady Russian website that probably has my SSN now. House Bill 137 of course has to pass in the House and the Senate before the governor can sign off on the action. The good news is it already cleared through a House committee by unanimous vote, 18-0, but it has not yet gone to the House floor for the full vote.
For more on that, I present to you a comment from Rep. Adam Koenig, the sponsor of House Bill 137. Koenig admitted he is very hopeful the bill will pass; it just “needs a little more time” before the actual vote, a “little more time for some of the members in the house to get comfortable and talk to some people.”
“Let’s not be an island, let’s keep our tourism and entertainment dollars here,” said Koenig in his pitch for sports gambling. “Let’s give grown adults the opportunity to make their own decisions. I trust Kentuckians. I think it’s reasonable to assume they can make decisions on their own. This is a bipartisan event, but as a Ronald Reagan Republican, I believe in less government, more freedom and personal responsibility… It’s time we bring these dollars and keep these dollars home.”
Ashley Watts, President and CEO of the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, was up next at the fancy podium to put her support and the support of the KCC behind the bill.
“As the voice of Kentucky’s business community, passing sports wagering in 2020 is really a no-brainer,” she said. “Not only will it make us more competitive with our surrounding states who have already enacted or are going to enact it, but it will also put much needed revenue in the state budget to help fund our pension system.
“There is so much support behind this issue across our Commonwealth and we cannot let this opportunity pass us by in this legislative session. Sports wagering really is a win-win for Kentucky. It’s good for business, it’s good for tax payers, and we encourage the legislature to take action this general assembly.”
Jessica Hiler, President of the Fayette County Education Association, and Jim Carroll, President of KY Government Retirees, followed, each voicing their support of sports gambling in Kentucky. Hiler making the case for education needing new sources of revenue, Carroll representing the full support of 15,000 KRS retirees.
When it came time for questions, Sen. Morgan McGarvey, the Democratic Leader of the Kentucky State Senate, was picked out of the shadows to answer if he can find the necessary votes in the Senate. A little surprised by his new involvement in the day’s events, a hesitant McGarvey smiled, stepped to the fancy podium, and said, “I’d bet on it.”
The room laughed, and even this no-nonsense reporter cracked a small smile at the optimism being projected by all of the people who look important. Everyone seemed so confident that one day in the very near future, the good people of Kentucky will be betting through sports books at Churchill Downs, Keeneland/Red Mile, Kentucky Speedway, Kentucky Downs and Ellis Park. The way the bill is written, and if it eventually passes, all we will have to do is make one in-person appearance to sign up at one of those five sites, and then the betting can all be done by phone. It sounds magical. It sounds wonderful. It sounds like a world I want to live in.
“Let’s get this bread.”
If you too want Kentucky to get its bread while you get yours, your voice still needs to be heard. For those legislators still wavering, support from their communities will go a long way in pushing House Bill 137 aka Let’s Get This Bread Bill over the top. If you’d like to help out, call 1-800-372-7181 or visit legislature.ky.gov to give your support for House Bill 137. And if that sounds too complicated or you’re like me and you’re really lazy, this super easy link right here will do all of the work for you. For real. It takes like five seconds if you go that route. Go. Stop reading. You could’ve already done it by now.
I’ll leave you with this from the governor:
“Let’s make sure that we act in this legislative session to keep these dollars right here in Kentucky. I’m excited for what today means for Team Kentucky and I believe that this bill not only has the support to pass the house, but to also pass the senate, and for us to finally take this step and move it into law. It’s time that we get this done.”
Let’s get this bill.