After months of planning and intense regulatory activity, Kentucky residents were finally able to place bets on September 7. This historic event marked the fulfillment of Governor Beshear’s promise to legalize retail wagering in the state just in time for the new NFL season.
Back in March, the governor had speedily signed the sports betting bill into law while giving the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission regulatory and license approval responsibilities. And as soon as retail outlets opened in the Bluegrass State, Beshear placed the first ever sports wager at Churchill Downs.
Since then, all attention has shifted to the financial returns following the first few weeks of sports betting in the state. Interestingly, and much to the delight of wagering proponents, Governor Beshear revealed that sportsbooks handled bets worth $4.5 million in the first two weeks. However, those are just figures from retail wagering.
In states where physical and online sports betting options are available, the latter brings in more than 90% of the total monthly handle. So, there are expectations that mobile wagering, which launches on September 28, will cause the market to grow even more exponentially.
Despite a generally positive showing from retail sports betting, Governor Beshear still believes Kentucky is not yet at its best. The Democractic governor predicts that wagering handle will grow significantly when mobile wagering goes live in the state.
“This is a strong number that certainly reflects the excitement Kentuckians have for the opening of sports wagering,” Beshear said about retail sports betting handle figures. “With college football and the NFL season underway, plus the launch of mobile wagering, we expect that number will grow significantly.”
In preparation for online sports betting, the governor announced that more than 60,000 individuals have preregistered accounts in the state. The state also has eight online sportsbooks ready to begin operations on the set date for mobile wagering. They include Caesars, FanDuel, Bet365, Penn Interactive, DraftKings, BetMGM and Fanatics Sportsbook.
Another sportsbook, Circa Sports is in high contention to launch in the state on the same day but is yet to confirm some preliminary arrangements. Regardless, the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission is expected to meet first to decide what sports can be wagered on in the state. It followed a similar process very early in September when it announced the Wagering Catalog which guided the retail sports betting launch.
Wagering outlets in Kentucky have so far been busy but many have wondered how the state will fare against other similar jurisdictions.
Kentucky joined Maryland and Massachusetts as the most recent US states to launch sports betting in stages. While Kentucky has managed to generate $4.5 million in bets from its first two weeks alone, the true test of its success would come after its first full month of operation.
In Maryland, retail sports betting brought in a handle of $32.5 million in January 2022, its first full month after going live in December 2021. Massachusetts, another example, recorded a handle of $25 million in February 2023 after launching in-person betting in January of the same year.
Maryland rolled out online sports wagering about a year after and posted a betting handle of $497.1 million. On the other hand, Massachusetts generated $584.5 million in online wagering handle barely two months after retail outlets opened.
Another state with a similar experience is Louisiana. The Pelican State quite closely mirrors Kentucky’s situation as they have almost the same population. In its first full month, Louisiana recorded a handle of $27.6 million from retail sportsbooks and $238.4 million from online sportsbooks which launched about three months after.
If the experiences in these states are anything to go by, Kentucky could well expect double digits from retail wagering at the end of September. But it would generally be safer to consider figures for October when online sportsbooks would have been fully active.