Several forms of in-person and online gambling are legal in Kentucky today.
On the brick-and-mortar side are horse racing betting, the state lottery and historical horse racing machines at racetracks.
Horse racing has been legal here since nearly a decade before Kentucky even became a state. A lottery was approved in 1988 and historical horse racing machines were approved by the KY Horse Racing Commission in 2010.
Online gambling in Kentucky consists of horse racing betting and the online lottery. Daily fantasy sports sites also operate in Kentucky despite state law not addressing the issue one way or another. The common interpretation of the law is that DFS sites fall under game of skill provisions.
Sports betting legislation was introduced in 2017, 2018 and 2019 but has failed to gain traction every time. The fact that lawmakers pressed the issue three years running shows there is demand, but the likelihood of sports betting being legalized in Kentucky is hard to estimate at this point.
Legal forms of gaming in Kentucky:
- Horse racing: Live racing, off-track betting parlors and mobile devices
- State lottery: Online and in-person
- Historical racing: At state racetracks
- Bingo and raffles: Registered charities
- Daily fantasy sports: Online / mobile
Online Gambling in Kentucky
Mobile horse racing betting was the first form of online gambling to be legalized and regulated in Kentucky. All major mobile operators accept Kentucky horse bettors and customers may sign up remotely from anywhere within state lines.
Major horse racing sites that operate in Kentucky include:
Daily fantasy sports are not addressed by Kentucky law, but generally fantasy contests are treated as games of skill rather than gambling. An attempted to regulate daily fantasy sites failed in the legislature in 2017 and since then, lawmakers seem to have shifted to other priorities.
In the meantime, all the big fantasy providers operate in Kentucky:
- Fantasy Draft
- Yahoo DFS
Online lottery sales launched in 2016 with draw games, instant win scratch games and keno all offered through the official website of the KY Lottery:
Land-based Casinos in Kentucky
The Kentucky Legislature has a casino gaming bill filed every year. It ends the same way each time, dying in committee or before a vote. There is not enough support in the state to authorize full-fledged casinos even though the historical horse racing machines installed at Kentucky Downs, Derby City Gaming and others are barely distinguishable from actual slots.
For now, gamblers looking for the full casino experience can visit casinos in any number of neighboring states. Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, West Virginia, Missouri and Arkansas all offer casinos just across the border.
Historical Racing Machines
Historical horse racing machines are the closest thing to actual casino gambling in Kentucky, and in reality, there is not much different between these and real slots.
For one, historical racing machines look like slots. They also feel and sound like slots when in action. The difference is historical horse racing machines are based on the outcomes of past races and ask players to select a horse (whose name is hidden) based on past performance data.
Most players, however, use the quick pick function to pick horses for them. The race can be viewed in its entirety, but most players also skip this and watch the spinning reels work their magic (for entertainment purposes only of course). The payouts also work a bit differently than slots as historical horse racing winnings are paid out parimutuel-style from a pool of players all playing the same games.
Historical horse racing machines can be found at four venues today:
- Derby City Gaming in Louisville
- Ellis Park in Henderson
- The Red Mile in Lexington
- Kentucky Downs in Franklin
The Kentucky Horse Racing Commission redefined pari-mutuel betting to include races that are not live in July 2010 and then asked a court to determine if the action was legal. The court agreed, but this kicked off a legal battle that would drag on for eight long years.
Sports Betting in Kentucky
Sports betting is not legal in Kentucky. Bills that hoped to change that died in the state legislature in 2017, 2018 and 2019.
Former Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin was opposed to gambling expansion, but Governor Andy Beshear took over in 2020 after campaigning in favor of expanded gambling to include traditional casinos and legal sports betting.
The odds of Kentucky legalizing sports betting have increased with the election of Andy Beshear, who called on the legislature to consider legalization in 2021. However, current projections point to 2022 being a more likely target for lawmakers to seriously consider the issue.
Poker in Kentucky
Commercial poker rooms are not legal in Kentucky. Players will need to go to a neighboring state where it is legal, including Ohio, Indiana, Illinois and West Virginia, to play in a live poker room.
Online poker is similarly prohibited. Certain offshore gambling sites continue to target Kentuckians with offers of online poker, but those sites are completely unregulated and it has become difficult for players to move funds back and forth (if they are even paid, which is not guaranteed).
Home Poker Games
Kentucky law on home poker games is not cut and dry, but it appears to be legal to host a social game as long as the house does not take a fee or have an edge. Additionally, others cannot be induced to play in social poker games.
If no rake is taken and all players have an equal chance of winning, the game is likely OK from a legal standpoint. That being said, it would be wise to get professional legal advice prior to hosting a game at your house.
Fantasy Sports in Kentucky
Fantasy sports are presumably legal in Kentucky due to the state’s definition of gambling not appearing to cover fantasy contests. There is no regulation over the industry, but major fantasy sites such as FanDuel and DraftKings are regulated in other states and hold themselves to a high standard.
The state legislature introduced legislation in 2017 that would have set a low tax rate of 6% and reasonable licensing fees of $5,000 for operators, but it was unable to advance beyond a House vote.
Kentucky Horse Racing Betting
Kentucky has a well-deserved reputation for horse racing as the ancestral home of the Kentucky Derby and Churchill Downs. Betting on horses has been legal since the 1700s and today there are seven racetracks in operation.
Each KY track offers live and off-track betting, and five of them host historical horse racing machines that look and function similarly to slots.
Mobile Racing Betting
Online racing betting is legal in Kentucky and serves as the state’s only form of true online gambling aside from the lottery. BetAmerica and TwinSpires, both operated by Kentucky’s own Churchill Downs Inc., are two of the country’s largest horse racing wagering sites.
Kentucky licenses mobile racing betting sites (also known as ADWs or advance deposit wagering operators), but state law is somewhat weak on enforcement. As a result, some US-based horse racing sites operate in Kentucky without a license.
Seven tracks host live horse racing and wagering today.
700 Central Avenue
|Keeneland Race Course
4201 Versailles Road
5629 Nashville Road
3300 US 41
7500 Turfway Road
|The Red Mile
1200 Red Mile Road
|Oak Grove Racing and Gaming
Oak Grove, KY 42262
The Kentucky Lottery was created through a statewide voter referendum in November 1988. The first scratch-off tickets were sold in April 1989. Kentucky also sells lotto tickets. This includes a mix of interstate and intrastate drawings. There is also a keno game that has drawings every four minutes. Proceeds from the Kentucky Lottery go to the state’s general fund. This equates to about 26% of sales.
Kentucky Intrastate Lotto Games
- Kentucky’s Quick Bucks
- Kentucky Ca$hball
- 5 Card Ca$h
- Pick 3
- Pick 4
Kentucky Interstate Lotto Games
- Mega Millions
- Lucky for Life
KY Online Lottery
In 2016, Kentucky became the third state to authorize online lottery sales. Residents may visit KYLottery.com to register an account, make a deposit and play games online from home or while on the go.
Games that can be purchased or played online through the KY Lottery include:
- Intrastate lotto games
- Interstate lotto games such as Mega Millions and Powerball
- Online instant win games
- Online keno
The minimum age to play the KY Lottery online is 18.
Games of Skill
Kentucky Revised Statutes § 528.010 defines gambling as:
staking or risking something of value upon the outcome of a contest, game, gaming scheme, or gaming device which is based upon an element of chance, in accord with an agreement or understanding that someone will receive something of value in the event of a certain outcome. A contest or game in which eligibility to participate is determined by chance and the ultimate winner is determined by skill shall not be considered to be gambling.
This translates to any game with an element of chance is considered gambling if a player puts up money to participate in it. This would make most card games illegal. However, competitions in traditional skill games like chess, checkers and athletic contests where the participants wager among each other would be valid.
Gambling on eSports is not typically legal in Kentucky. An exception may be when the bettors are also the participants and skill is the main determiner of a winner. Esports betting sites that accept Kentucky residents include:
Traditional Online Skill Games
According to skill game sites like WorldWinner, the state’s definition of gambling does not apply to pure games of skill. King Games also accepts Kentucky players. Sweepstake sites such as WPT Online are also open to Kentuckians.
Skill-based Gaming Machines
Skill-based gaming machines are not legal in Kentucky.
Charitable Gaming Laws
Kentucky permits registered charities to offer bingo games, sell pull tabs and hold raffles. It is licensed by the Department of Charitable Gaming. Charities pay a tax of about one percent of gross revenues. Raffle tickets under $5 may be sold without approval. A sales tax on charitable fundraising was dropped after the law was changed by the Kentucky Legislature in 2019.
Kentucky Gaming Law
Legalized gambling predates the statehood of Kentucky. Horseracing betting started in 1783 while Kentucky officially became a state in 1792.
Despite the state’s initial comfort with horse racing betting, any additional significant gambling expansion would not occur for over 200 years. It wasn’t until voters approved a state lottery in 1988 and charitable gaming went live in 1992 that residents saw their gambling options increase.
The minimum gambling age for all forms of gaming currently regulated in Kentucky is 18.
Gambling expansion in Kentucky does not always require voter approval. Some expansions may be done by the legislature or racing commission. In odd years, it requires 60% in both the house and senate. In even number years, it only requires a majority.
The following agencies regulate gaming in Kentucky:
Kentucky Lottery Law
The Kentucky Lottery was approved by voters in November 1988. It passed in a constitutional referendum by a 61 to 39 margin.
The first tickets were sold in April 1989. Lotto and scratch-off tickets are available, as well as keno at select locations that often include taverns. Keno drawings are held every four minutes. Lottery tickets may only be sold at retailers or through the official KY Lottery website or mobile app.
Lottery players must be at least 18 years of age. Money raised by the lottery is divvied up as follows:
- 64% is paid to winners
- 25% goes to KY to fund college scholarships and grant programs
- 6% goes to retailers
- 5% goes to administration
Charitable Gaming Law
Charitable gaming is permitted through any nonprofit that is registered with the Internal Revenue Service and the state. Bingo games may be held. Raffle tickets may be sold. Pull tabs awarding prizes may also be offered.
Certain policies designed to keep scam charities out of Kentucky apply to the operators of charitable games. There is a tax of about one percent on revenues, which creates a paper filing that fosters future investigations if needed. Additionally, charity employees may not be paid more than $50 per event and no more than $15 in food may be provided to employees.
Online Gambling Laws
The only forms of legalized online gambling in Kentucky are mobile horse racing wagering and the lottery. Bettors may create accounts on the apps and process all deposits and withdrawals there.
The Kentucky Lottery went online in 2016 in order to “be more attractive to a younger demographic who are accustomed to conducting a majority of their retail purchases online.” What began with a small collection of instant win games and tickets to several drawings has expanded to include dozens of games today.
Under state law, online lottery players must be at least 18 years old and have a valid Kentucky address. State law also prohibits the KY Lottery from allowing customers to withdraw funds they have deposited in an effort to combat money laundering. Players beware: winnings may be withdrawn at any time, but deposits must be played.
Sports Betting Laws
Sports betting is not legal in Kentucky. It is not due to a lack of trying. Bills failed in the 2018 and 2019 legislative sessions, but that is probably a good thing because both bills called for outrageous tax rates that would have killed the industry.
There is hope moving forward now that Kentucky has a more gambling-friendly governor in place.
KY Gambling Domain Seizures
In 2008, Kentucky attempted to seize 141 domains related to offshore gambling companies. After a six-year fight, the state lost its legal battle. The domains were permitted to remain in the hands of the registrars.