s a bipartisan group of legislators is working on a bill to legalize sports betting in the state, Senator Morgan McGarvey says the proposed legislation's chances are "good."
"This is a way we can get revenue without using the dreaded word 'tax,' " said McGarvey, a Louisville Democrat who said Reps. Jason Nemes, R-Louisville, and Rocky Atkins, D-Sandy Hook, are other members of the group.
"This is not a panacea. It's not going to cure all of Kentucky's financial woes. But it is a way to get some money coming to already depleted coffers," McGarvey said, adding that it would partially offset deficits in some social services, including Medicaid.
McGarvey made his comments Wednesday at the Louisville Forum, a monthly speaking session at Vincenzo's restaurant in downtown about different topics that have local appeal, The Courier Journal reports.
This month's forum focused on the odds that sports betting becomes legal in Kentucky. McGarvey, a proponent of legalizing sports betting, appeared opposite Martin Cothran, spokesman for the Kentucky Family Foundation, a socially conservative group that opposes expanded gambling in the state.
One of Cothran's arguments against legalized sports betting is that it's not "good policy" because it's a moral issue. Lotteries and gambling, he said, are often viewed as a regressive tax that targets the poor.
He said after the forum that he doesn't envision a scenario where his group would support legalized sports gambling in Kentucky. The foundation plans on lobbying against the proposal.
"There are just too many problems associated with it," he said. "When you're talking about doing it at the level it would have to be done to gain the financial benefits the proponents want, there is nothing you're going to be able to do at that level."
The forum came about three months after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned a 25-year-old federal ban on sports betting. The law had effectively prohibited sports betting outside Nevada.
Several states have since moved to legalize sports betting or are in the process of doing so, including New Jersey, West Virginia and Mississippi. In Kentucky, some legislators have long sought to expand sports wagering as an alternative revenue source.
During the discussion, McGarvey laid out a number of reasons why sports gambling would be good for Kentucky, namely as a way to offset funding shortages for public services like university funding and infrastructure. He estimated that legalized gambling would bring in $5 million to $30 million annually.
Additionally, he said it would be a way to make money off something that's going on already, both legally in the state in the forms of fantasy football and betting at horse race tracks, and across the state's borders in Indiana, which allows casinos.
"We still don't have enough revenue to operate the basic needs and obligations of state government as it currently exists," McGarvey said. "It's a way for us to generate revenue from something that's going on already."
Cothran, meanwhile, said that while legalized sports betting is often viewed as a "slam dunk," he doesn't necessarily think that's the case.
He brought up the fact that legalization may hinge on whether the Kentucky Constitution would need to be amended to allow expanded gambling. Legislators have previously told the Courier Journal they're not sure if that's the case.
"I think we're going to find that there are enough legislators in our General Assembly who believe that we need to honor the Constitution that clearly disallows this kind of gambling," Cothran said.
Another potential roadblock is Gov. Matt Bevin, who has spoken against sports betting in the past but said after the Supreme Court ruling that he would be open to hearing proposals from legislators.
McGarvey said he thinks Bevin is against gaming but that if the bill is a truly bipartisan proposal, legislators will have the simple majority required to override a gubernatorial veto.
"If I can predict what the governor will do, I would be in favor in Frankfort," McGarvey said.