Why is Kentucky Called the Bluegrass State? The Fascinating Reason Behind Kentucky's Nickname

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Why is Kentucky Called the Bluegrass State? The Fascinating Reason Behind Kentucky's Nickname

Kentucky's proud heritage includes a nickname unique to the commonwealth (as Kentucky is officially called): The Bluegrass State.

The nickname's spelling varies, sometimes as one word, other times as two.

As Fox 56-TV in Lexington notes, most spellings combine the words, as in Bluegrass Music Association. Others go with two words: Blue Grass Airport.

The Associated Press Stylebook, used in newsrooms as the primary guide for spelling and punctuation, uses it as one word, with this definition:

Bluegrass: 1 any of a large genus (Poa) of temperate and arctic forage grasses characterized by a bluish-green color 2 [[orig. in name of a band led by B. Monroe (c. 1945)]] a kind of Southern string-band music characterized by bluesy harmonies, rapid tempos, and an overall high-pitched vocal and instrumental sound.

The AP Stylebook offers a couple of twists to the term:

Bluegrass Country: (or Bluegrass region) region in central Ky. where there is much bluegrass.

Kentucky bluegrass: a bluegrass (Poa pratensis) native to Eurasia, now widely grown in the U.S. as a lawn and pasture grass.

No matter how it's spelled or defined, the rich blue cast of normally green grass in the sunlight, caused by the bluish tint of purple buds, is tied to the commonwealth's identity through its world-class horse racing industry, musical heritage and more.

Why is Kentucky called the Bluegrass State - Bluegrass field with horses near Lexington Kentucky
Photo: Bluegrass field with horses near Lexington Kentucky

Cultural Significance of Bluegrass

The term "bluegrass" began to gain widespread recognition during the World War II years with the emergence of Bill Monroe and the Blue Grass Boys, whose down-home performances at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville were broadcast on powerful WSM radio.

As Fox 56-TV notes, bluegrass music was developed earlier than that "in the Appalachian region of Kentucky from European folk music."

The Bluegrass Boys with Bill Monroe second from the right - Country Music from Kentucky
Photo: The Bluegrass Boys with Bill Monroe second from the right - Country Music from Kentucky


Over time, Bill Monroe and others spread the bluegrass sound from America to countries in Europe and other regions across the globe.

"Bill Monroe and his Blue Grass Boys are what took this specific flavor of folk music in Kentucky and turned it into bluegrass," the TV news station reported. "Musicians use guitars, banjos, fiddles, and an Appalachian dulcimer to create the sound of bluegrass music."

When it comes to bluegrass and traditional country music, other Kentuckians, including Loretta Lynn, the "Coal Miner's Daughter," also made their way to the Grand Ole Opry, further shining a light on the Bluegrass State. She grew up in Butcher Hollow in Eastern Kentucky.

Loretta Lynn, American country singer, July 26, 1973.
Photo: Loretta Lynn, American country singer, July 26, 1973.

Kentucky's Horse Racing Legacy

In the 1960s, when the Bluegrass State nickname was made official at the Legislature in Frankfort, the term showed up on license plates and advertising campaigns, Fox 56-TV notes.

The lush grass is especially associated with the horse country around Lexington in central Kentucky, where bluegrass is grown everywhere from neighborhood lawns to large fields to pastures.

In addition to music, the term "bluegrass' is especially associated with the horse pastures in the commonwealth, known worldwide as ground zero for major races.

At Churchill Downs in Louisville, for instance, the annual Kentucky Derby on the first Saturday in May is one of thoroughbred racing's most important events, because it's the first leg of the Triple Crown. The buildup to the race, including images of women in elegant hats and fans sipping mint juleps, is a celebrated tradition.

Horses Rounding the First Turn in the 2011 Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky
Photo: Horses Rounding the First Turn in the 2011 Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky

Even before the recent approval of sports betting in Kentucky, the longstanding tradition of wagering on horse races at some of the world's most prominent tracks continues to draw spectators and bettors to the commonwealth from around the globe.

Sports Betting and Horse Racing

Staring in September, Churchill Downs will again be in the spotlight, as it will become one of several horse tracks and their satellite locations allowed to offer in-person sports wagering at sportsbooks inside their facilities.

Though it already is legal to bet on horse races in Kentucky (in person and on horse racing apps), any wagering on sporting events such as football and basketball will continue to be illegal until this September. That's when the commonwealth joins neighboring states such as Ohio and Tennessee in legalized sports betting.

In-person sports betting in Kentucky begins Sept. 7 at 10 a.m. ET. and Kentucky betting apps will start being available from Sept. 28 at 6 a.m. ET.

The kick off to in-person sports betting is occurring early enough to give people a chance to wager that day on the NFL regular season opener between the defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs and visiting Detroit Lions.

Churchill Downs Entrance Louisville Kentucky home of the Kentucky Derby
Photo: Churchill Downs Entrance Louisville Kentucky home of the Kentucky Derby

The following Kentucky racetracks and their satellite facilities have been approved to open sportsbooks at their facilities on Sept. 7:

  • Churchill Downs, Louisville
  • Derby City Gaming, Louisville
  • Ellis Park, Henderson
  • The Mint Gaming Hall Cumberland Run, Corbin
  • The Mint Gaming Hall Cumberland, Williamsburg
  • Newport Racing and Gaming, Newport
  • Oak Grove Gaming and Racing, Oak Grove
  • The Red Mile, Lexington
  • Turfway Park, Florence
  • The following were approved, with facilities coming soon:
  • Derby City Gaming, coming soon to downtown Louisville
  • Ellis Park, coming soon to Owensboro
  • Sandy’s Gaming and Racing, coming soon to Ashland


The state has released a list showing the sports betting operators that have partnered with Kentucky horse tracks to offer in-person wagering.

Mobile sports betting begins Sept. 28. Here are the sports betting operators that have been authorized to make their apps available on the day. Other operators might be added later.

  • Bet365
  • BetMGM
  • Caesars
  • Circa
  • DraftKings
  • Fanatics
  • FanDuel
  • Penn Sports Interactive (ESPN)


The Impact of Sports Betting Launch

On Sept. 7 at 10 a.m., Kentucky's governor. Andy Beshear, is scheduled to place the first legal sports bet at Churchill Downs.

With sports betting underway in time for the NFL and college football seasons, the Bluegrass State is expected to receive a windfall in tax revenue.

According to the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission, sports wagering is expected to boost the state’s revenue by $23 million a year.

"The increase in revenue will support the oversight of sports wagering and then be dedicated to the Kentucky permanent pension fund," the commission stated in a news release. "Additionally, 2.5% will support the problem gambling assistance account operated by the Cabinet for Health and Family Services."

State officials also expect legal sports betting to spur economic growth in other ways, including an increase in tourism, especially in attracting more visitors to horse tracks.


Starting on Sept. 7, Kentucky's unique blend of tradition, from the Bluegrass State nickname to horse racing and more, will be updated on the sports front with the launch of legal sports betting and we will be also be awaiting for the Kentucky sports betting promos.

This is happening in time for bettors to wager not only on the early season NFL and college football games but also on other favorite sports and events.

These events include the Major League Baseball playoffs and World Series this fall, the NCAA football playoffs and championships in the winter, the NFL's Super Bowl in February and the NCAA March Madness basketball tournaments next spring (a big deal in a place where the Kentucky Wildcats and Louisville Cardinals are among the commonwealth's popular programs).

Bettors and fans, get ready to participate in this exciting new chapter of Kentucky's sports history!

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Larry Henry

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