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'I'll bet all the time now': Lexingtonians line up to place first sports wagers

Josh James

After a long wait for sports fans, legal sports betting arrived in Kentucky Thursday.

Betters barely took a breath at Lexington’s Red Mile to allow for the official ceremony marking the beginning of sports wagering, with many lined up at kiosks just feet away from where the governor was introduced at the podium.

"Happy sports betting day!" Gov. Andy Beshear greeted the crowd to applause.

The Democrat wasted no time calling Thursday a “win” for Kentucky. Later, the governor placed his second bet of the day – wagering the UK men’s basketball team would win the national championship – before telling reporters what the new form of legal entertainment will do for the commonwealth.

"What it means is at least $23 million a year that we can put toward our pension system, education, roads, things that help our citizens," the governor said. "But it also means we've come through to give Kentuckians what they want. This is an exciting form of entertainment."

That $23 million may sound like a lot, but in terms of the state budget, it’s relatively small – something sports betting skeptics pointed out throughout the debate in Frankfort.

But if enthusiasts like Jim Fischer, who placed his first sports wager at the Red Mile Thursday, are any indicator, the ultimate amount of revenue could be closer to newer estimates around $30 million.

"I've been waiting for it for 12 years. I can't believe they finally got it here in the state of Kentucky," he said.

Fischer says he used to bet out of state, but now, with in-person wagering just down the road, he’ll be putting more down on more games.

"I'll bet all the time now. In Indiana, I only went about once a month, but now here I can come every two or three days," the Lawrenceburg resident said.

For today, it’s a bit of a race for politicians to take credit for legalization. Beshear has been a longtime proponent, but it took several years after the U.S. Supreme Court opened the door for sports wagering for the majority Republican legislature to gather enough support, with leaders like GOP Sen. Damon Thayer leading the charge.

Once the vote was finally secured, it was a quick turnaround to get the system up and running. Dan Shapiro with Caesars says, even so, it’s been a pretty smooth process.

"We wanted to make sure we were open for the first day of NFL, which we are today, so no concerns with that," he said. "We've got a few more weeks before mobile is up to work out any issues there. But we'll be ready for the 28th for mobile sports betting. For right now, for today, it's about retail and it's about signing up for your app."

Kentucky is the 38th state to legalize sports betting.

Josh James fell in love with college radio at Western Kentucky University's student station, New Rock 92 (now Revolution 91.7). After working as a DJ and program director, he knew he wanted to come home to Lexington and try his hand in public radio.