Sports gambling bill could help fill Kentucky pension shortfall

Horse industry lobbyists push to legalize sports gambling in Kentucky

FRANKFORT, KY (WAVE) - Revenue from sports gambling is something lawmakers have said may be helpful in solving Kentucky’s $43 billion pension crisis.

The shortfall is also causing budget troubles for cities like Louisville trying to pay their part, but being asked to contribute even more money.

Some believe one of Kentucky’s signature industries may be able to help, though.

In a room full of handshakes and horseshoes, leaders from the Kentucky horse industry met with lawmakers Tuesday.

Their goal is to protect the equine businesses they say makes a $3.4 billion economic impact and sustains 80,000 jobs in the state.

Among the priorities of the group, which calls itself the Kentucky Equine Education Program, is a bill that would legalize sports gambling.

“These are things that occur all the time," Rep. Adam Koenig, (R-Erlanger), said. "We just need to bring it out of the shadows.”

Koenig is sponsoring House Bill 175, which would make sports wagering, internet poker and fantasy sports legal in Kentucky.

It’s got support by senate leadership.

“Sports wagering to Kentucky would be important to help our existing race tracks, but also raise money to put toward our pension funding,” Damon Thayer, Senate Majority Floor Leader, said.

Koenig said revenues would be split between funding the regulation, addiction services, and the pension.

“It’s not going to fix the pensions," Koenig said. "It’s going to be a small amount of money, but it’s something.”

That could be something city leaders are cheering for as well.

Finding sources to fund the pension is something Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer said he supported previously.

Louisville’s upcoming four-year $65 million pension obligation, which Fischer said is mandated and always paid, prompted the announcement of the possibility of dramatic cuts last week. It also comes ahead of an announcement of possible tax solutions the mayor said will happen this week.

Tuesday, he was in Frankfort looking for solutions.

“The main thing with Frankfort is cities need more revenue options," Fischer said. "We’re very limited on what you can offer to the people as choices for us to move forward.”

The first deadline of the public pension working group to recommend a solution is also looming in Frankfort. The initial date is set for February 15.

Thayer said it’s hard to tell whether that deadline will need to be pushed back.

“It’s hard to tell on the timing," Thayer said. "First, we have to figure out what we can get passed, what will we have enough votes to pass and then we’ll deal with the timing.”

The deadline can be pushed back by lawmakers as far as December.

Koenig said he’s optimistic his sports gambling bill could pass the House, but it would be easier to get through with the lesser vote requirement needed during a budget year.

The House Committee on Licensing, Occupations, and Administrative Regulations will hear HB 175 on Wednesday.

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