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Online sports wagering begins in Kentucky

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Kentucky residents and visitors 18 and older can now legally bet on sports using websites and mobile apps. Gov. Andy Beshear said last week more than 60,000 accounts were preregistered with sportsbooks.

According to Beshear, more than $4.5 million was wagered in the first two weeks of legal sports betting.

That was all in-person, at locations operated by horse racetrack companies like Churchill Downs, which were given a three-week head start to offer sports betting.

Now, sportsbooks like FanDuel and DraftKing that partnered with the racetrack companies can offer online sports gambling directly to users anywhere in the state.

University of Louisville professor Thomas Lambert studies gambling and the equine industry. He said earlier this month that tracks received a favorable deal by getting to offer betting first.

But he added the sportsbook companies will catch up soon.

“The online stuff will eventually dominate anyway,” Lambert said. “So they know this is coming.”

Kentucky lawmakers legalized sports wagering by passing House Bill 551 this spring. That brought the commonwealth in line with neighboring states like Indiana and Ohio, which already offered legal sports betting.

One of the biggest arguments in favor was that legal sports betting would keep money in Kentucky. Legislative researchers estimated it could add $23 million annually to state revenue.

Using 2.5% of the revenue, Kentucky will support a new problem gambling assistance fund. The rest will go toward oversight of sports betting, and supplementing the state’s permanent pension fund.

The Kentucky Horse Racing Commission is in charge of oversight through its Sports Wagering Advisory Council.

That council has approved emergency regulations to get sports betting started, but has yet to pass ordinary regulations. A representative for the council did not respond to a request for comment.

Hans Stokke, director of sports wagering at KHRC, said that while broader sports betting is now legal, there are some restrictions. He said during a council meeting last week that Kentuckians can’t bet on high school teams.

The ban applies to “team events where more than half of the team is under 18,” but pro athletes in sports like tennis aren’t included, he said.

“Individual sports where minors are competing in a professional context, that is permissible,” Stokke said.

The council has so far approved betting on a variety of sports leagues and events, including college athletics, e-sports, and international tournaments.

Jacob Munoz is WFPL's business and development reporter. A Chicago native, he previously worked as an editorial assistant at Northwestern Magazine and as a digital and print intern with Smithsonian Magazine. Jacob also served as an editor and reporter for the online student publication North By Northwestern.
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