Expert: No Constitutional Amendment Required for Sports Betting in Kentucky

FRANKFORT, Ky. – Kentucky can move forward on sports wagering without a constitutional amendment.

At least that’s according to prominent Florida attorney Dan Wallach. Wallach has studied other state’s constitutions as it relates to sports betting. Wallach testified in front of the Interim Joint Committee on Licensing, Occupations, and Administrative Regulations Monday telling lawmakers when it comes to Kentucky’s Constitution there is nothing in it explicitly banning sports wagering.

Wallach says when the Constitutional Convention met in 1890 they specifically went against adding sports wagering in the ban on lottery gaming.

“The ban on lotteries was not meant or designed to include sports betting or bans on other forms of wagering and betting,” Wallach told lawmakers. “And how do we know that? We know that because they considered it, they expressly considered the subject of sports betting and other forms of betting or wagering as a proposed ban and they expressly rejected it.”  

Wallach says a main reason sports wagering is not counted in the Constitutional ban is because it is not a game of a chance.

“If greyhound racing and thoroughbred horse race betting are decidedly considered games of skill and outside the confines of the lottery,” Wallach said. “If they are not lotteries then neither is sports betting.”

Senate Majority Floor Leader Damon Thayer, R-Georgetown, agrees that if wagering on horses is allowed so should betting on all other sports and was pleased to see the argument that it would require a constitutional amendment shot down.

“You have done an excellent job debunking the specious argument that it requires a constitutional amendment to enact sports wagering. The opponents of sports wagering will have to come up with something else because saying it requires a constitutional amendment is just a red herring,” Thayer said. “I think this is a natural extension that is part of our history, our culture and our tradition.”

When sports wagering was first proposed during the 2019 session the Family Foundation argued it would go against the Kentucky Constitution.

“The sports wagering bill, as is with most gambling legislation, is an attempt by the gaming industry to slip daylight past the rooster, so they don’t have to amend the Kentucky Constitution” said Stan Cave, a lobbyist for the Family Foundation said in February 2019 committee hearing. “I want to ask yourself when looking at this legislation, is the sports wagering bill constitutional? Currently, Section 226 of the Kentucky Constitution authorizes three forms of gaming: a state lottery, charitable bingo, and pari-mutual wagering on horse racing. That’s it.” 

Despite opposition from various groups bill sponsor Rep. Adam Koenig, R-Erlanger, believes he will be able to get the measure passed through the House quickly and says he plans on talking to Gov. Andy Beshear about his support for sports wagering.

“I look forward to sitting down with him and talking about it,” Koenig told reporters after the meeting. “Sometimes things become partisan and I’ve run some bills before that Democrats don’t like, and maybe there was some folks inclined to not be for it just because it was my bill, that maybe with some help from the governor that could get us some extra votes and  I think that will be particularly important in the Senate.”

Sports wagering could bring in about $20 million annually.