Kentucky Lawmakers Propose $225 Million Problem Gambling Trust Fund

Home » Kentucky Lawmakers Propose $225 Million Problem Gambling Trust Fund

Posted on: March 6, 2022, 01:09h. 

Last updated on: March 6, 2022, 01:10h.

A bill filed last week in the Kentucky General Assembly could transform the state into a leader for responsible gaming.

Koenig gaming bills
Kentucky state Rep. Bill Wesley (left) speaks with state Rep. Adam Koenig on Monday before Koenig files five bills related to gaming in the state House chamber. One bill would direct $225 million from a settlement with PokerStars into Kentucky’s first trust fund for problem gambling services. (Image: Kentucky LRC Public Information)

Despite its traditional horse racing market, a lottery that’s been in place for more than 30 years, and slot-like historical horse racing (HHR) machines increasing at a swift pace, Kentucky has been one of the few states to not fund gambling addiction services.

That would change thanks to House Bill 609 filed Monday by state Reps. Adam Koenig, R-Erlanger, and Al Gentry, D-Louisville. The legislation would create the Kentucky Problem Gambling Fund and set aside $225 million for the program.

The funding for the program would come from the PokerStars lawsuit settlement reached last year. That deal ended more than a decade of litigation, stemming from when PokerStars operated cash games illegally in Kentucky during the height of the online poker craze.

What better use of that money than to put it to problem gaming,” Koenig told reporters. “So, we create a trust that deals with that issue.”

At a press conference announcing that bill and three other gaming-related pieces of legislation, Koenig said the funding would allow Kentucky to go from having no dedicated program to one of the most robust in the nation. That money, if managed properly, would serve the state’s problem gambling needs for centuries, if not forever.

“A New Day for Kentucky”

Responsible gambling advocate Brianne Doura-Schawohl said in a statement to that she was “elated” to hear that Kentucky leaders were wanting to correct the “long-overdue neglect” of addressing problem gambling.

Doura-Schawohl said estimates indicate Kentucky has about 30,000 residents struggling with gambling addiction. That roughly works out to about 1 percent of the state’s adult (18-and-older) population. She added that will grow if and when Kentucky adds sports betting or expands gaming in other ways.

“Those individuals have gone without help and hope for far too long,” she said. “I hope this is a new day for Kentucky and all those struggling.”

How significant would it be to invest $225 million into problem gambling services? As she noted on Twitter after Koenig filed his bill, the entire country spent $73 million to deal with problem gambling in 2016.

As Koenig noted, the funding would likely cover the state’s problem gambling services for lifetimes. However, Doura-Schawohl said it’s still important that gaming operators in the state contribute to the system.

She also hopes that it can help problem gambling services elsewhere.

“If this bill were to pass and become law, it would be the single largest funded problem gambling program in the nation,” she said. “I would hope that the funding would be used for research, prevention, treatment and recovery that not only helps Kentucky but provides vital information and best practices for the entire nation, to help address this important public health issue.”

What are the Problem Gambling Bill’s Chances?

Currently, the bill sits in the House Committee on Committees. It awaits assignment to a committee, likely the House Licensing, Occupations, and Administrative Regulations Committee, which Koenig chairs.

When Kentucky lawmakers reconvene on Monday, it will be Day 42 of the 60-day session. The legislature will meet for the next three weeks, and a 10-day veto period will start on March 31. After giving Gov. Andy Beshear time to veto legislation, the General Assembly is scheduled to meet on April 13-14 to consider overriding any vetoes.

Lawmakers could still pass new legislation in those final days – as well as during a two-day concurrence period on March 29-30. However, over the next few weeks, legislators must also finalize a budget. They also continue working on reforms to the state’s personal income tax system and unemployment program. Those are the priorities right now in Frankfort. It remains to be seen how much time will be left for other issues.

Besides the four bills on individual gaming topics – sports betting, pari-mutuel reforms, and gray machine regulation were the other topics covered – Koenig also filed an omnibus bill that includes language from all pieces of legislation.

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