Sports betting: Another proposed boondoggle

July/August 2018

Opinion: Why do government officials not recognize that their duty is to the people of Kentucky, not the gambling industry lobbyists?

By Martin Cothran, Senior Policy Analyst For The Family Foundation

One of the state lawmakers pushing a bill to legalize sports betting in Kentucky recently said: “The state, I believe, ought not to be involved in how I spend my entertainment dollars.” Of course, we already live in a state that authorizes and regulates (among other forms of entertainment) horse racing. Not only that but we have a state-run lottery.

The state is very much involved in how we “spend our entertainment dollars.”

I think he is wanting to strike a libertarian note, the one we always hear: if people want to gamble, the state shouldn’t get in the way. But somehow he managed to do the exact opposite.

The legislation now being discussed would seek to implement regulations on sports betting, and the state wants some of the proceeds. There is nothing less libertarian than that.

A recent U. S. Supreme Court decision leaves it up to states to decide whether they want to authorize sports betting. But it will require more than just changing current statutes, as these lawmakers are trying to do.

Why?

Because the kind of gambling that sports betting involves is not allowable under our state Constitution. Our Constitution allows only three kinds of gambling: pari-mutuel wagering on horse races, a state-sponsored lottery, and charitable gaming.

Sports betting does not fit under any of these categories.

In order for anyone to legalize sports betting in Kentucky, lawmakers will have to amend the state’s Constitution. That will require the General Assembly to pass a bill in favor of sports betting, by a three-fifths majority in each chamber, which includes language to be placed on the ballot for Kentuckians to ratify—or not, as the case may be.

Again, simply passing a statutory bill will not work. More importantly, sports gambling is not good policy.

Not only would any gambling expansion increase problem gambling, but sports betting is even more problematic—it would further target the poor.

Like the Lottery, which derives much of its revenue from people who can least afford it, it will take from the poor and give to the rich. It is the only case I know of where liberals support what amounts to a regressive tax.

We already know that the state lottery inordinately targets lower-income households. We also know from studies that these purchases are funded by reducing spending on food and mortgage payments.

We are already providing public school children free lunch and free breakfast (and now meals in the summer in some places) because they are not being fed at home and now we’re going to offer online sports betting as another temptation for these families to divert money from these essentials?

There is also the corruptive aspect of state-sponsored gambling.

The advocates of sports betting claim they will “regulate” sports betting so that it will be operated properly. Sen. Julian Carroll (D-Frankfort) has already introduced his bill, BR 29, which will the put sports betting under the authority of the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission.

This is an organization whose lawyer was able to go to work for the proprietors of historic racing games that the Commission regulates.

This is an organization whose executive director was heading the Commission one week and the very next week was representing a track in a permit application before the same Commission.

This is an organization whose consultants were being paid by the tracks it was supposed to be regulating.

If these things were going on in any other regulating body it would be a scandal.

Sports betting is not only unconstitutional, it would exacerbate the problems the Lottery has already introduced and could increase corruption. Surely there are other issues lawmakers should be spending their time on.

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