It’s not a bad time to be a Kentucky sports fan. Kentucky basketball remains a title contender every year, and the football program looks like it’s here to stay. Last season, both were staples in the Top 25 rankings, a pretty good indication of their quality.
State legislatures don’t have Top 25 rankings, or at least the Associated Press hasn’t figured out how to do that yet. That’s a good thing, because Kentucky would be unranked. We wouldn’t be getting good recruits, and we’d be losing more games to Tennessee than the football team ever did.
It’s hard not to pick your team even if you know deep down they’re probably going to lose. Well, the Kentucky legislature has your back, because even if you wanted to bet money on them this season, you couldn’t. Just like you can’t Kentucky’s basketball or football teams, not online anyway.
Our sports version of the Kentucky legislature snatched defeat from the jaws of victory again recently. It watched its counterpart in Tennessee race across the goal line and dance in the end zone while it stood slack-jawed.
Kentucky, which is notably struggling with its bills, stood pat while Tennessee on Tuesday passed legislation that will allow online-only sports gambling across the state.
Here near the Tennessee border we have a pretty unique perspective on this. We remember when Tennessee folks crossed over to buy lottery tickets at our gas stations when they couldn’t at home. Now they’ll watch as we line up to put money into their state economy because our legislature couldn’t pull a dollar out of an open bank vault.
I’d disagree with it, but I’d at least understand why we didn’t want to make this money if we expressed our moral disgust with its source in an ironclad fashion.
But we don’t. Slot machines are legal in all but name, betting on horses makes enough money that I like to imagine the folks at Churchill Downs have a Scrooge McDuck-esque pool of gold coins they practice their backstroke in. We can buy lottery tickets for astronomic odds on winning the Powerball, but we can’t bet on the Titans to lose to the Colts like they always find a way to do.
So what was it? Just a missed opportunity? Selective morality? Why, when we had a chance to help lead the charge in what will soon be a national wave of legalization, did we do nothing?
We know the legislature is capable of seizing the moment when it deigns to do so. The commonwealth has snatched a good chunk of the hemp industry because of it. Not acting here is tantamount to just giving money to other states.
Intended or not, it looks hypocritical. It looks like we didn’t want to make money for moral reasons except when we do. I’m not ascribing those reasons, because I don’t know, but I know that’s what it looks like.
I’m passionate about this because you can feel the inevitability of it. This is going to happen eventually. Stereotypes suggest we’re always 20 years behind the rest of the nation. A February report said Kentucky could have generated $20 million a year in new taxes off sports betting. Let’s do the math. How much will those years cost the pension fund? How many millions can we wave goodbye to, sent off to send up more skyscrapers in Nashville?
Many legislators have said they oppose gambling of any form. Well, sorry guys, people are going to gamble whether we want them to or not. The question is, are we going to be the ones making the money, or are we going to continue to watch Tennessee cities grow while we struggle to pay our teachers money?
No, it’s OK, those of us near the state line are plenty used to losing out to Tennessee. We’ve watched Fort Campbell soldiers flood into Tennessee for decades while the legislature twiddled its collective thumbs.
It sure would have been nice to get a win for once. I wouldn’t have bet on it, though.