The Commonwealth of Kentucky borders seven states and sports betting is legal in six of them.  (Ohio recently legalized sports betting, which will be operational in mid-to-late 2022.) Missouri is the only state adjacent to Kentucky that has not authorized sports betting, but its legislature is considering doing so. 

Kentucky’s population is about 4,468,000 million people.  The Greater Louisville area accounts for 28.4% of the total, or 1,268,993 million people.  Northern Kentucky (Boone, Campbell, and Kenton Counties) has a population of 390,736, which is 8.7% of the aggregate Kentucky population.  Louisville is a short drive across the Ohio River to Indiana, where there are a couple of locations that offer sports betting.  Similarly, once Ohio’s sports betting is up and running, Northern Kentucky residents will be able to wager by crossing the Ohio River into Cincinnati (Cincinnati is about 15 miles from the Indiana border).

So, in 2022, 37% of Kentucky’s population residing in Greater Louisville and Northern Kentucky will have easy access to sports betting. In addition, Kentucky residents who live near the borders of Illinois, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia already can conveniently and legally bet on sports.

Regardless of whether Kentucky legislators are attempting to protect their constituents from gambling excesses or trying to shield the horse-racing industry from competition, the effort is largely ineffective.  The fact is, between residents crossing state borders to bet on sports, or doing so illegally online, neither Kentucky citizens nor the racing enterprise is being helped.  All that is being achieved is that tax revenue from sports-betting is being collected by six states bordering Kentucky instead of keeping it at home.  That’s a great deal for the six states but certainly not for Kentucky.

A strong case can be made that Kentucky’s racetracks would benefit from increased traffic that sports betting would foster.  Churchill Downs and Turfway Park in the most heavily populated regions of Kentucky are at a huge competitive disadvantage with nearby casinos in Indiana and Ohio. Ellis Park and Kentucky Downs are also located near state borders.

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