Kentucky politicians place their bets as in-person sports gambling opens

By: - September 7, 2023 12:44 pm

In-person sports betting opened across Kentucky on Sept. 7. On Thursday, online sports wagering began. Churchill Downs in Louisville is one one of the nine racetracks eligible to operate retail locations and partner with operators of sports betting apps. (Kentucky Lantern photo by McKenna Horsley)

LOUISVILLE — In-person sports betting opened to Kentuckians Thursday morning and some of the state’s top politicians celebrated by placing bets — Gov. Andy Beshear at Churchill Downs and Senate Majority Leader Damon Thayer at the Red Mile. 

Democrat Beshear bet on the University of Kentucky and the University of Louisville football teams and against Kentucky rival Duke University. 

Have a gambling problem? Call or text 1-800-GAMBLER (1-800-426-2537). Visit or email [email protected]


Meanwhile, Thayer, R-Georgetown, joined the primary sponsor of the legislation, Rep. Michael Meredith, R-Oakland, and other lawmakers to place bets at Red Mile Gaming, a racetrack in Lexington. 

Beshear signed House Bill 551 passed by the General Assembly earlier this year after a 2022 attempt to legalize sports betting died in the Senate. Kentucky is the 37th state to legalize gambling on sports.

In a statement, Thayer said he was “honored to be here in my backyard” to celebrate with Meredith and other colleagues.  

“For years, those of us here today have advocated for sports betting and did so with the support of millions of Kentuckians,” Thayer said. “The legislature listened, we took action, and starting today, no Kentuckian will ever have to take their hard-earned money to another state just to place a sports bet.”

 Lt. Gov. Jacqueline Coleman placed her own bet of $20 on the Cincinnati Bengals to win the Super Bowl at an opening event at Turfway Park in Northern Kentucky. 

Gov. Andy Beshear holds up his $20 parlay bet at Churchill Downs in Louisville. (Kentucky Lantern photo by McKenna Horsley)

Later Thursday afternoon, the governor was scheduled to travel to Red Mile Gaming in Lexington to make another bet.

“This is something that the people of the Commonwealth of Kentucky have wanted,” the governor said. “They want to keep their entertainment dollars in the state and make sure that the revenue that comes out of it stays in the state. So it’s an exciting day that we have wanted and hustled for and worked for so long.” 

Beshear is seeking reelection this year against his Republican opponent, Attorney General Daniel Cameron.  

Once it is fully implemented, sports betting is expected to bring in an estimated $23 million a year in state revenue. 

The new revenue dollars will support sports betting oversight and then the Kentucky permanent pension fund.

Also, 2.5% of the funds will go to the Problem Gambling Assistance Fund, which provides education on safe gambling, the risks of a gambling problem and available resources to reduce consequences of problem gambling. 

To learn more about available resources, call or text 1-800-GAMBLER (1-800-426-2537), visit or email [email protected]

Approved mobile apps can begin taking wagers on Thursday, Sept. 28. The Kentucky Horse Racing Commission’s website has a list of approved race and sports book retail locations. 

Only the state’s nine horse racetracks are eligible to operate retail sports betting which they can offer at all their sites. The tracks may also partner with up to three marketing platforms for mobile wagering.

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McKenna Horsley
McKenna Horsley

McKenna Horsley covers state politics for the Kentucky Lantern. She previously worked for newspapers in Huntington, West Virginia, and Frankfort, Kentucky. She is from northeastern Kentucky.