Kentucky is home to the world’s most famous horse race. But the Bluegrass State does not embrace most other forms of gambling.
While surrounding states have legalized various forms of online casino gambling, sports betting and poker, Kentucky has chosen to stand pat. A bill to legalize online and in-person sports betting, publicly supported by Gov. Andy Beshear, failed to come up for a vote in the 2020 legislative session. Online wagering opportunities in the commonwealth remain limited.
Pari-mutuel wagering remains popular in Kentucky, where Churchill Downs has played host to the Kentucky Derby every year since 1875. While sports betting and casino gambling may someday find a home in Kentucky, right now it’s not much of a horse race.
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Casino gambling of any kind is not legal in Kentucky. Residents who want to play online slots or table games can do so at social and sweepstakes casinos such as WinStar, LuckyLand and Chumba, which provide free virtual coins and the opportunity to win jackpot prizes with no real money changing hands. Gambling.com’s top-rated social casinos are listed above.
Casino gambling on offshore-based sites is never recommended. Most of these sites operate without regulation or oversight. When offshore sites abruptly shut down, players can lose access to their funds with no recourse. There is also no guarantee that the slot machine or table game you are playing is fair.
The only legal online gambling opportunities in Kentucky are pari-mutuel advance deposit wagering platforms such as TVG and Twin Spires, and the Kentucky Lottery, which sells draw and instant game tickets online.
State lawmakers have not made legalizing online casino gambling a priority. Instead, they have introduced several bills to legalize retail and online sports betting. A 2020 bipartisan bill to legalize sports betting and online poker was approved at the committee level in the House but failed to advance.
The bill’s sponsors say they plan to re-introduce the bill in 2021, though additional votes (60%) are needed to approve revenue-generating bills in odd-numbered years. That makes 2021 a longshot for the passage of any online gambling law. But given huge potential shortfalls in the state budget and the legalization of online casino gambling in neighboring West Virginia and online sports betting in Tennessee, Indiana and Illinois, perhaps there’s a sliver of hope on the horizon.
Kentucky has no land-based casinos. The state has slot-like historical racing machines (also known as instant racing) at most of its pari-mutuel facilities. The machines allow bettors to wager on replays of races that were previously run. The machines are defined as pari-mutuel wagering, not casino gambling (which is illegal), though that definition is being challenged in court.
The first step for Kentucky lawmakers is passage of a bill that will allow commercial gambling casinos in the state. Casinos that are granted licenses could then pursue online casino gambling. For now, social and sweepstakes casinos are the best alternatives for Kentucky residents who don’t want to travel to neighboring states to gamble.
If online casino gambling is approved in Kentucky, online casino apps will play a significant role.
Online casino apps give bettors an unprecedented level of convenience, allowing them to place wagers 24 hours a day, 7 days a week from their mobile device anywhere inside the state. The apps are free, available for Android and iOS devices, and can be downloaded from the casino site or the App Store. Any transaction and wager available on your desktop or laptop computer can also be made via online casino app.
The most popular games in states with legal online casino gambling include:
Online Slots: Whether you prefer 3-reel or progressive slots, nearly all of the slot games found at a traditional land based casino are available online. That’s in addition to a selection of new slot titles with 3-D graphics and animation, all specifically designed to fit your smaller screen.
Online Poker: Kentucky is closer to adding online poker than other casino games. The most recent sports betting bill that failed in the 2020 House session included a provision for online poker, which has seen a record revenue surge in other states after physical cardrooms were shut down due to the coronavirus.
Lottery: The Kentucky Lottery is already online. Players (18 or older) can create an account, make a deposit and purchase state lottery draw and instant game tickets. Lottery players must have a valid Kentucky address and be located inside the state to play online. Winnings are automatically added to your account.
Roulette: Among the oldest casino games and one of the easiest to play. In online roulette, an electronic random generator is used instead of a physical wheel.
Online Blackjack: The most popular table game whether playing inside at a land based casino or online. The online version offers more varieties of blackjack with lower minimum bets, and you never have to wait for a seat at the table.
Live Dealer: Online table games with an added social element. A live person deals the game from a studio or casino setting, with the action streamed to your computer or mobile device. The live dealer format allows players to chat online with the dealer and other players at the table. Its availability does vary by state and by casino site.
Online casino gambling operators attempt to make deposits and withdrawals as easy and efficient as possible. The most common payment options:
Credit/debit cards: Always a popular and convenient deposit option, but not always the best. Some financial institutions choose not to process gambling transactions, others charge high fees. In addition, most credit/debit cards cannot be used for withdrawals.
Play+/Prepaid cards: Play+ was designed for online gambling and have many advantages. Typically, you can set up an account through a link on your casino site. From there, you can fund the Play+ card with a credit card or bank account, then move the funds into your gaming account. You can withdraw winnings back on to the card and then access the cash at an ATM. Many prepaid cards are available at retail outlets, while others can purchased on the website of your casino operator. Primarily used for deposits, though some can be used for withdrawals.
E-wallets: PayPal is the most widely accepted, with Neteller and Skrill also accepted by several online casino operators. E-wallets allow players to move their money to and from their online account for low fees.
ACH/bank transfer: Digital connection established between your bank account and online casino account makes deposits and withdrawals easy. Deposits are processed quickly, withdrawals generally take longer.
PayNearMe: Deposit-only and cash-only option. Bring money to your Kentucky 7-Eleven, CVS Pharmacy or Family Dollar and a barcode will transfer the funds to your online account.
One advantage of online casino play is the number of online bonus and promotional offers not available to players at land-based casinos. Among them:
No-deposit bonus: A small welcome bonus placed into your account just for signing up, with no deposit required.
Deposit match: Make an initial deposit and your online operator will match up to 100% of that amount. Deposit match bonuses generally include playthrough requirements, meaning you must wager that bonus money a specific number of times before it can be redeemed, usually in increments. As with all bonuses, be sure to read the terms and conditions.
Mobile bonus: A bonus or free wager for trying a specific mobile product.
Reload bonus: Sometimes offered to players whose accounts have been depleted or as an incentive to inactive players.
Free spins: Appealing to slots players, get free play on select slot machines and bank the winnings after meeting the playthrough conditions.
The stance in Kentucky has been largely anti-gambling, although the state’s love of horse racing continues to manifest itself in betting, albeit in limited forms, to this day.
Kentucky revised statutes § 230.010 and § 528.010 cover sports betting and gambling, and they ultimately serve to prohibits betting in most of its forms within the state.
Online gambling in Kentucky has yet to really take hold. Back in 2008 some 140 domain names, which were either gambling operators or sites linked to betting, were seized by the state and named "gambling devices," which are strictly prohibited under state law. There are a small number of online operators in the Bluegrass State, but they are licensed and linked exclusively to the parimutuel betting industry that continues to thrive here.
Sports betting and online poker bill is introduced. House bill is approved by committee, but never comes up for vote.
Four sports betting bills are introduced, including one that would regulate online poker and Daily Fantasy Sports wagering. Another bill would allow up to four commercial casinos in the commonwealth, pending local referendums. None gain serious traction.
Kentucky Lottery begins selling tickets online.
State’s racing commission modifies its definition of pari-mutuel wagering to allow slot-like historical racing (instant racing) machines at Kentucky tracks. Kentucky Downs is first to install instant racing terminals the following year.
Commonwealth attempts to close down 140 poker providers by seizing control of their domain names. Most are eventually returned to their rightful owners.
More than 60% of voters approve Kentucky Lottery. First ticket sold the following year.
Inaugural running of the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs in Louisville.
Kentucky lawmakers have taken several swings at sports betting, but come up empty so far.
In 2017, a sports betting bill was introduced that would have allowed the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission to regulate the sports gambling industry if the Supreme Court were to allow sports betting. The bill never moved, though the Supreme Court would repeal the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act the following year, paving the way for states to approve sports betting.
Sports betting bills were introduced in 2019 and again in 2020 which would have allowed online and in-person wagering at pari-mutuel facilities and Kentucky Speedway, a motorsports track. But opponents successfully blocked a vote both years.
Rep. Adam Koenig, who sponsored sports betting bills in 2019 and 2020, says he is undeterred and will make another attempt in 2021.
Koenig is not without supporters, including Gov. Andy Beshear, who urged lawmakers to pass sports betting legislation, noting hundreds of millions in gambling revenue is being spent across the border in neighboring states. And according to the Louisville Courier Journal, a 2020 Public Opinion Strategies poll revealed that 66% of registered Kentucky voters favor sports betting.
The 2020 House bill was unanimously approved at the committee level, but sports betting opponents blocked the bill by attaching several proposed amendments. With 2021 an odd-numbered year, a sports betting bill will require three-fifths approval (instead of majority) from lawmakers, who will meet in a shorter 30-day session.
Daily Fantasy Sports wagering in Kentucky operates in an unregulated environment.
Though the state doesn’t have a law that permits (or prevents) Daily Fantasy Sports, leading national operators Draftkings, Fanduel and Yahoo Sports all accept Kentucky accounts. A bill that would have regulated daily fantasy sports in the commonwealth failed in 2020.
No state is more tied to the horse racing industry than Kentucky. The Kentucky Derby, the world’s most famous horse race and first leg of the Triple Crown, has been run every year at Churchill Downs in Louisville since 1875. Kentucky is the center of the equine industry in the U.S. and home to hundreds of horse farms. Most of the leading thoroughbred sires in North America stand in the Bluegrass State.
Kentucky is home to five pari-mutuel thoroughbred tracks: Churchill Downs, Keeneland, Ellis Park, Turfway Park and Kentucky Downs; and two harness tracks, the Red Mile and Oak Grove. Online horse betting from Kentucky accounts is permitted on national pari-mutuel wagering platforms such as TVG, TwinSpires, Xpressbet and NYRA Bets.
Expect all of the major online sportsbook operators to show significant interest in the Kentucky sports betting market if and when legalized. BetMGM, BetRivers, Caesars, DraftKings and FanDuel are among the top Indiana online sportsbooks that operate across the river.
Under the 2020 House bill, wagering would have been available on all the major pro and college sports, as well as international sports. The bill was amended to allow wagering on games involving Kentucky-based college teams.
Only on pari-mutuel wagering, Daily Fantasy Sports and lottery.
The minimum gambling age in Kentucky is 18 for pari-mutuel wagering and state lottery games.
None. Kentucky does not have an land-based casinos and does not allow casino gambling.
Pari-mutuel wagering, instant racing machines, lottery and Daily Fantasy Sports, which is unregulated. Social casinos are also available.
Online accounts can generally be set up from any state, but bettors would need to be physically located inside Kentucky to legally place a wager. Online casinos use geolocation software to determine where players are located.
Some may be from social or sweepstakes casinos, which are legal and offer free online slots and table games for prizes with no exchange of real money. Other offers may be from offshore-based real-money gambling sites, which operate with little or no regulation and should be avoided.
At the state’s horse racing tracks (Churchill Downs, Keeneland, Kentucky Downs, Ellis Park, Turfway Park, the Red Mile and Oak Grove) and lottery outlets.
No. Sports betting is not permitted in Kentucky.
To be determined. Several failed sports betting bills assigned regulation to the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission, which already regulates online horse race betting. A 2020 Senate bill would have created a Kentucky Gaming Commission.
Yes, provided the site you are playing on is properly licensed and regulated by the state agency responsible for ensuring that all games are fair and accounts secure.
All gambling winnings are subject to federal and state tax. Kentucky’s withholding rate is 5%.
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