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What's Going On Here: Money on the Table

Weekly commentary from BloodHorse magazine

As usual, shortly after I pull into the bank parking lot located in New Albany, Ind., just across the Ohio River from Louisville, Ky., a fellow traveler parks his car a few spots down from mine. I soon glance his way and notice he's focused on his phone and skimming through notes. He looks my way and sees those same actions reflected. We nod in recognition.

I soon get out of my car to buy a Diet Coke from the gas station next door, and there is another person sitting in his car in that lot. There isn't any need for me to ask what he's up to—his phone light illuminates his downward face on this overcast day.

What has brought us all to this sleepy Indiana town on a late-morning Saturday? It isn't a great brunch, cheap gas, or a perfect cup of coffee. The attractions on this cold day are easy access from the first Indiana exit off I-64 West, readily available parking at the bank (closed on Saturday), and the opportunity to operate our mobile devices using an Indiana cell tower in order to legally bet on sports.

Kentucky does not allow sports wagering, but Indiana does. So each weekend Kentuckians flock either to out-of-state brick-and-mortar casinos or to the first interstate exits across the state border to place sports wagers online. Currently, Kentucky is all but surrounded by states that legally offer sports wagering: Indiana, Illinois, Tennessee, and West Virginia. Virginia will soon join the mix.

These cross-border trips to bet on sports also have been well-documented in New York, which also doesn't allow sports wagering although Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who previously has opposed sports wagering, might be willing to consider it. I reached out to sports betting site FanDuel, and they note that 25% of their New Jersey platform customers reside in New York. Weekend migrations have become the norm.

My round-trip adventures are a little less than two hours. But, if Kentucky legislators would approve sports gambling at racetracks—as proposed in a bill this year crafted by Rep. Adam Koenig, an Erlanger Republican—I'd much prefer a 10-minute trip to Keeneland. Not to mention that once COVID-19 is conquered, a day at Keeneland or The Red Mile spent wagering on horses, football, and basketball would be much more attractive than a morning in my car—driving one way, filing a few bets, then driving back.

By allowing Kentucky tracks to offer brick-and-mortar sports wagering locations, the legislation provides some added revenue for racing. But, more importantly, it would bring potential new customers to the tracks. The typical sports bettor is much more inclined to give horse racing a try than say, a slots player. Kentucky tracks and simulcast outlets would figure to be places to gather for the Super Bowl or for University of Kentucky basketball games. It is safe to say those crowds would likely give horse racing a chance.

The Kentucky legislation has bipartisan support and the backing of Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear, a Democrat. Still, most political experts give it little chance of passing this year. Meanwhile, Indiana saw sports wagering surpass $300 million in December—a record for any single month in the state and nearly doubling the total from December 2019. I'm one of many Kentuckians who helped make that possible.

I wish that weren't the case. I'd prefer any taxes on my betting activity go to Kentucky and its signature industry as opposed to the good people of the Hoosier State. For now that's not possible; thus, I make the drive.

The trips provide time for thought, time to ponder issues like how strange it is that one state wants my money and one state does not.