Long odds on sports betting

In typical Kentucky fashion, it looks like we’re poised to pass on yet another state revenue opportunity.

Sports betting was recently green lighted by the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled that a 1992 federal law is unconstitutional so states can allow sports betting.

Legalizing and regulating gambling on professional and college sports is the right decision for a number of reasons. But sitting on the sidelines while other states make money off of bettors, particularly Kentucky bettors, makes no sense. Not legalizing sports betting makes even less sense in a state that is home to one of sports betting’s most iconic events — the Kentucky Derby.

The most important factor in considering whether to legalize sports betting is that it’s already happening, just not legally. The debate over whether we should “introduce” sports betting in Kentucky would be different if it didn’t already exist. An economic impact study done by Oxford Economics for the American Gaming Association estimated that $107 billion in illegal sports betting occurred in just one year (2016-17).

Underground gambling accounting for that $107 billion includes neighborhood bookies and offshore gaming websites, but it also includes that casual office pool during March Madness and Super Bowl.

Wouldn’t it be nice for Kentucky to uphold its public pension obligations, or better fund public education, through taxes on sports books and economic activity from legalized sports betting?

Seeing how prevalent it already is in America, not to mention how mainstream sports betting has become around the world, it doesn’t exactly feel like criminal activity.

Particularly when nothing but a blurry line distinguishes morally and socially acceptable wagering from illicit gambling.

Fantasy sports are legal because they were determined to be a game of “skill,” not a game of chance. If fantasy football is a game of skill, then sports betting should have always been legal, while casino games and state lotteries — games of chance — should be illegal, because there are professional sports bettors who are skilled enough to come out on top.

If the government is trying to protect the poorest, most vulnerable from losing, their lotteries should be the first to go.

I have yet to discover a moral or social distinction between gambling on dice and gambling on players or horses, but apparently there’s one in the land of the free.

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The truth is this distinction is a matter of what politicians arbitrarily determine to be morally corrupt and dangerous versus what is entertainment — or at least what their base believes is a vice or sin. But the ban on sports betting ultimately boils down to the government dictating how you can and can’t spend your money.

If you ask someone who has placed a $2 bet on a Derby horse, or had Villanova in their office pool this year, they might tell you they didn’t bet to get rich, but because they enjoyed the entertainment.

It is fair for lawmakers to be concerned about the harmful, even addicting, effects of sports betting — someone will surely lose their savings and cause their family hardship. But that happens now. At least, legalizing sports betting would provide more money to help gambling addicts.

The revenues created from taxing sports betting are needed. In Kentucky, where we face a pension crisis, opioid epidemic and countless other issues that come from being a poor state, we cannot refuse free money.

Lawmakers do have a choice:

Pretend this “criminal” activity isn’t going on, and argue that they’re saving the poor, weak gambling addict and his family… or fund the state pension systems, better fund public education, improve the state’s infrastructure — while also committing some new revenue to assist with gambling addiction.

Sports betting will become legal in other states around Kentucky. To not jump on board, even in a limited capacity, would be giving those states our money.

Gov. Matt Bevin’s initial response to the news was that he is “agnostic” and would look at lawmakers’ proposals before making a determination.

This is the opposite of leadership.

This is yet another example of our state being controlled by one man’s personal, religious objections and future political ambitions, at the expense of common-sense, responsible governance.

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