Poker is a game deep-rooted in US culture but is tightly regulated online.
Here in Kentucky, we have a physical testament to the history of the online game; Chris Moneymaker recently opened the Moneymaker’s Social Club in Paducah, offering the traditional card game and other pastimes such as billiards. Why is that important? Because Moneymaker is a poker celebrity who helped spark the original poker boom in 2003 by winning the World Series of Poker after qualifying online at home. He was the first to do so, a seminal moment in online poker history. That’s now known as the Moneymaker Effect, and the man himself has backed the Paducah venue where you can enjoy an in-person game.
You cannot enjoy an online game for real money in Kentucky – it is hard to find such games anywhere. The Black Friday event from 2011 closed down all the major operators, and currently, only five states offer legal online poker in the US. Two more have provisions, but providers have not set up there because of the limited market.
Will Kentucky Get Legal Online Poker?
Will Kentucky legalize online poker? The short answer is yes, despite the heavy conservative leaning in the Bluegrass State.
Online poker generates tax dollars and lots of them, and lawmakers cannot afford to ignore these challenging economic times. Michigan has legalized iGaming, contributing to the total revenue of $205m in taxes to the state and $59.5m to Detroit alone in 2021. Online poker usually comes tied in with sports betting, and given that Kentucky hosts the Kentucky Derby, it is feasible that the online market could open; if it does, then there’s a door for iGaming to slip through as well.
Has It Already Been Broached?
Again, the answer is yes; Kentucky has already attempted to pass three separate bills in 2020, 2021, and 2022. Those bills, HB 137, HB 241, and HB 606, required online poker operators to pay the state $250,000 yearly for their operating license, with a tax rate of 6.75% applied after that. Unfortunately, all three failed to get past the committee, but the final one, HB 606, failed by just three votes, and supporters have pledged to try again next year. So there’s certainly a desire to bring online poker to the state.
What Might Happen Next?
Firstly, 2023 could be a tough year to get a bill through as supporters have half the time to get support. In an odd quirk of the state constitution, legislators meet for 30 days in odd-numbered years but 60 in even-numbered years! However, given the previous attempts, that may not be a significant hindrance.
There is a fear that Kentucky could miss out on revenue when it comes to sports betting – Ohio is launching sports betting in January, which means Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia will all offer sports wagers. The latter state also has provision for online poker but has yet to sign the Multi-State Internet Gaming Agreement, hence not offering games. If they were to do so, then Kentucky would be surrounded by precedent, making it hard to resist forward change.
It’s even believed that Kentuckians are driving across state lines in some instances to enjoy iGaming and sports betting, which is revenue flowing out of the state. But, primarily, this is in the form of sports betting, and for a state with such a tradition of horse racing, that is not something to be ignored.
Kentucky is the embodiment of the broader picture for iGaming and online poker in the United States. It’s a state that has seen the benefits others have had and recognized them but is torn between those wanting to see a relaxation of the rules and those wishing to keep the state gambling free. However, as more state benefit from tax dollars, it could be challenging for Kentucky not to embrace online poker, in some form, over the coming months and years.
If online poker isn’t your thing, you might find value in our other Kentucky articles, including this one on top glamping spots.