Legislature should be lauded for rejecting bad betting bill

Published 11:38 am Monday, April 22, 2019

By Michael Johnson

Guest Columnist

Unfortunately, proponents of Kentucky House Bill 175 (the so-called “sports wagering” bill) responded to its defeat by mischaracterizing The Family Foundation in the media. They presented The Foundation as “incorrectly couching this as a values and morals struggle” and having “outsized influence… on our state legislature.”

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Stan Cave, The Foundation’s attorney and former Kentucky legislator, testified before the Kentucky House Licensing, Occupations, & Administrative Regulation Committee on Feb. 13. He presented four important legal and policy points. None of them were even mentioned when The Foundation’s position was criticized.

First, he made the reasonable request that legislators make sure that the bill actually did what they thought it did.

Though presented as a “sports wagering” bill by proponents, the bill would have actually legalized wagering on nonsporting events, such as the Emmys and Oscars, while also allowing wagering on chance outcomes such as the coin toss.

Second, Cave pointed out that Section 226 of Kentucky’s State Constitution, the highest state law, only authorizes three forms of gambling: charitable, the state lottery, and pari-mutuel horse racing.

That means that any expansion of gambling in the Commonwealth requires a constitutional amendment, which must be ratified by the voters.

Third, he informed legislators that the U.S. Department of Justice released a memo in January, interpreting the Federal Wire Act to prohibit use of the wires and wire facilities to facilitate gaming and wagering on gambling events.

Fourth, Cave asked legislators to ensure government transparency and integrity to avoid ever repeating the embarrassment of Boptrot, the FBI’s corruption investigation that implicated more than a dozen Kentucky legislators with regards to horse racing legislation.

HB 175 lacked the several necessary elements to ensure this. Consider…

No. 1 The Kentucky Horse Racing Commission, or any other agency granted authority over this gambling expansion, should be subject to the Executive Branch Ethics Code. Surprisingly, the Commission is not currently covered by it.

No. 2 Gaming operators and applicants should be prohibited from paying the fees of a public agency’s consultant.

No. 3 In order to provide adequate oversight, legislators should ensure they have the ability to find out what is going on.

HB 175 would have legalized far more than it claimed, violated the Kentucky Constitution, threatened to break federal law, and failed to ensure government transparency and integrity. The Family Foundation is thankful for the legislators who actually heard the concerns and declined to enact a very bad bill.

Michael Johnson is a policy analyst with The Family Foundation of Kentucky.