With the Super Bowl-contending Cincinnati Bengals playing their home games just a few miles from Kentucky turf, Gov. Andy Beshear understandably has said he hopes to have state-approved sportsbooks taking their first bets by the NFL regular season opening day of Sept. 7.
But Matt Schuler, executive director of the Ohio Casino Control Commission, says that Kentucky made “a fundamental mistake in its new law.”
“I absolutely hate the idea that individuals under 21 can go across the border, open an account, and bet,” Schuler said. “I think it’s horrible.”
The handful of states that allow sports betting for those age 18-20 – such as Montana, New Hampshire, New Mexico, and Rhode Island – have small populations and no neighboring city in another state nearly as large as Cincinnati.
Also, all of the states that border Kentucky – including Illinois, Indiana, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia – have age 21 as the minimum age to place a sports wager.
Derek Longmeier, who is the executive director of Problem Gambling Network of Ohio, called Kentucky’s minimum age of just 18 for sports betting “dangerous, short-sighted, and it makes no sense.”
“This will result in tremendous damage to Kentuckians and residents in neighboring states who are impacted by such easy access to an addictive product,” Longmeier added.
“We know the earlier someone starts, the more likely they are to develop a gambling problem. Twenty-one is the standard age of majority, not only for high-risk forms of gambling like sports betting and slot machines, but also for alcohol – and in Ohio, for tobacco and vaping products.”
Sharon Custer, a researcher for Miami University of Ohio’s Institute for Responsible Gaming, Lottery, and Sport, also raised concerns about Kentucky’s age 18 standard.
“The prefrontal cortex is one the last parts to finish development and is responsible for decision-making, impulse control and planning,” Custer said. “These skills are necessary for setting limits and having self-control. Its underdeveloped state means that risk-taking is common in this age group.”
Kentucky Makes Its Case
Kentucky officials are just pleased that after several years of wrangling, legal sports betting is finally on the cusp of launch.
“I have zero doubt that sports betting will be a natural fit for a state that has made betting on horses its calling card for nearly 150 years,” said Rep. Al Gentry of Louisville, one of the sponsors of the House of Representatives bill. “It took a lot of work to get to this point, but it was worth it.”
Beshear said that “we have a real urgency in Kentucky for new revenue to support the needs of our communities, our state, and especially our children who deserve the best education.
“We have an urgency to keep millions of Kentucky dollars from crossing our rivers and going to support the education and pension systems in our neighboring states.”
By the Numbers: Ohio and Kentucky
Sports betting will have an estimated revenue increase of $23 million a year, with 2.5% of that amount diverted to the problem gambling assistance account.
The taxes on sports betting will be a relatively industry-friendly 9.75% on the adjusted gross revenues at retail sportsbooks and 14.25% on wagers placed online or on a smartphone.
Ohio regulators have received national attention for their vigilance since the Jan. 1, 2023 launch of sports betting against Ohio sportsbook operators who market to anyone under age 21, with a pair of operators having received six-figure fines for doing so.
Penn Entertainment was fined $250,000 for its Barstool Sports subsidiary promoting its sports betting app at the college football show at the University of Toledo in November.
DraftKings was hit even harder, getting fined $350,000 for mailing sports betting materials to approximately 2,500 underaged recipients.
Michael Meredith, a member of the Kentucky House of Representatives, said that age 18 is the minimum for anyone to play the state’s lottery or to wager at one of the state’s nine-horse racing tracks.
Like most states, Ohio also has a minimum age of 18 for the lottery and for horse racing betting – but a higher age for betting on sports.
Many U.S. racetracks also offer sports betting – meaning that someone age 18-20 can bet all they like on the horse races, but they cannot gamble on a ballgame. The most notable example is at the Meadowlands Racetrack in New Jersey, considered by many to be the most prestigious harness racing track in the world.
A FanDuel Sportsbook is located inside the track’s grandstand, but the age 21 minimum limit is enforced there.
Earlier this year, the American Gaming Association established a marketing code for its members that prohibits gambling advertising “designed to appeal primarily to those below 21.”
The code also prohibits sports betting partnerships with colleges, though only after several universities dabbled in such plans.
That includes the University of Colorado, which in March terminated its $1.6 million deal with sportsbook operator PointsBet that initially was approved in 2020.
PointsBet received advertising spaces at Colorado athletic events and – most controversially – paid the university $30 each time anyone signed up for a sportsbook account via the university’s promotional code.