Kentucky Gambling Laws: A Historical Overview

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A map featuring Kentucky and surrounding states.
BetMGM Jul 10, 2023, 4:44 AM

If you’re wondering whether or not gambling is legal in Kentucky, this article should prove extremely useful. Firstly, it will answer your questions regarding the legal status of sports betting, poker and online casino games such as those you’d encounter if you register with BetMGM. But this post also takes a look at the history of legislation in the Bluegrass State, right through to today’s Kentucky gambling laws.

Please note, at the time of writing and publishing, online casinos are not yet legal in Kentucky. Sports betting, however, has recently been legalized. 

Is Gambling Legal in Kentucky?

The most frequently asked question about gambling in Kentucky is whether or not it’s even legal. Unfortunately, it’s not quite as simple as that since local laws classify different types of gambling in different ways. Some are indeed legal, while others, such as online casinos (or casino gambling of any kind,) are not.

Before delving into the history, take a look at the legal situation for each individual form of gambling.

Kentucky Casinos

Kentucky has always been strict when it comes to playing casino table games for real money. As things stand today, brick-and-mortar casinos and online casinos are not allowed to operate in Kentucky, whether commercially owned or run by native tribes. That’s because the Kentucky Revised Statutes state that anything “won, lost or bet in any game, sport, pastime or wager” is void.

It is possible, however, to enjoy social games, such as those found at sweepstakes casinos or on sites like Facebook. Since these do not involve cash, they are not classed as gambling. But if you want to play blackjack, roulette or other casino games for money, you’ll need to visit a neighboring state. Most residents of Kentucky indulge in land-based casino gambling in West Virginia. 

Kentucky Sports Betting

In May 2018, the US Supreme Court overturned the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act. This lifted a nationwide ban on sports betting, giving each state the power to shape its own sports wagering legislation. Kentucky was slow to take advantage of this, but the wheels have finally begun to turn recently.

After several failed attempts to legalize sports betting beginning in 2019, House Bill 551 was introduced early in 2023. On March 31, Governor Andy Beshear approved the bill, signing it into law with an effective date of June 28. As per the new legislation, the industry must be up and running within six months, meaning a cut-off date of December 28, 2023. This opens up an opportunity for sports fans to wager on teams like the Wildcats and Cardinals in a secure environment.

Horse Racing

In Kentucky, wagering on horse racing is operated on a pari-mutuel basis, with no fixed odds betting allowed. Betting on horses can only take place at one of the state’s nine racing venues rather than off-track. This became legal in the whole of the USA, not only Kentucky, in 1933.

The Bluegrass State is famously home to one of the world’s most storied races, which forms one leg of the US Triple Crown. The Kentucky Derby has been around since 1875 and takes place at the historic Churchill Downs racetrack. 

Historical Horse Racing (HHR) machines are also permitted at race tracks. These work similarly to slots, with RNG (Random Number Generator) software determining the results and historical footage used to give the appearance of live racing.


Lawmakers in Kentucky decided that poker is not a game of skill and is, therefore, no different from any other casino game. So just like land-based casinos, poker rooms are not permitted to operate.

That means that local poker players are forced to head out of state to play in live tournaments or cash games. 

Bingo and Lottery

Gambling games based on random numbers are permitted in Kentucky. Bingo is classed as charity gambling, which is legal as long as it’s raising funds for a nonprofit organization, such as a church or school.

There is also a legal state lottery in KY. The Kentucky Lottery sells instant-win scratchcard games and operates a variety of local draws. It’s also possible to play keno for up to $100,000 and take part in national lottery games, including Mega Millions and Powerball.

Online Gambling in KY

Given Kentucky’s traditionally conservative stance towards gambling, the state’s legislation is not fully caught up with online gambling trends. As such, there are no explicit Kentucky online gambling laws governing the use of online casino games such as video slots, sports betting or online blackjack live dealer games. At present, these activities remain unregulated and, therefore, are not legal.

Kentucky’s existing gambling legislation primarily focuses on penalizing unlawful gambling operators rather than individual players. While some individuals might risk registering with offshore bookmakers, it is strongly advised that you don’t follow this route due to potential legal and financial repercussions. After all, according to the Kentucky Revised Statutes, conspiracy to promote gambling is a Class D felony, carrying severe consequences.

Other areas are more gray. Daily Fantasy Sports (DFS) betting, for instance, is currently available, as it is considered a game of skill. There is yet to be a legal challenge to this claim. So, for the time being, at least, Kentucky residents can play at all of the major DFS operators.

Timeline of Events

Now that you’re up to speed with the KY gambling laws, here’s a timeline to help you track the key events which shaped them.

  • March 1933: Pari-mutuel betting at horse racing tracks is legalized at the federal level.
  • April 1988: The Kentucky Lottery is created, bringing legal lotteries and scratch-off tickets to residents.
  • July 2010: Legislators modify the definition of pari-mutuel betting to include RNG games that use historical race footage, similar to slots.
  • November 2013: Keno is added to the range of games operated by the state lottery.
  • May 2018: PASPA is struck down by the Supreme Court, meaning sports betting is no longer illegal, should states wish to allow it.
  • January 2019: The first of four sports betting bills in 2019 is introduced, none of which gain traction. 
  • February 2021: HHR machines are ruled legal by the Kentucky General Assembly after an earlier Supreme Court ruling had determined these games were unconstitutional. 
  • April 2022: The state Senate fails to vote on House Bill 606, which would have legalized sports betting.
  • March 2023: A bill introduced in February 2023 passes in the Senate thanks to a 25–12 vote. Sports betting is now legal, in theory, from June 28, 2023.

Legal Gambling Age

As established thus far, the only legal forms of gambling in Kentucky are charitable games like bingo, the state lottery, sports betting and on-track horse racing. But how old do you need to be in order to participate?

According to Section 528 of the Kentucky statutes, you must be at least 18 years of age in order to place such bets. When sports betting eventually launches, 18 is also expected to be the minimum age.

The Future of Gambling in Kentucky

Although the Bluegrass State has a long-standing relationship with horse racing, it has always been opposed to other forms of gambling. However, recent changes to the law have paved the way for both retail and online sports betting. 

Should this prove to be a successful enterprise, it offers some hope that casinos could follow in the not-too-distant future. Only time will tell. 

There is still hope to see more progress in the area of gambling laws in Kentucky — staying updated is key. If you register with BetMGM, you can stay informed about future changes in legislation and be among the first to know when online casino games become available in Kentucky.

In the meantime, indulge in the excitement of online sports betting with BetMGM and explore the rich history and beautiful landscapes of Kentucky.

Actress Vanessa Hudgens flipping casino chips next to the text "The King of Casinos"
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Our BetMGM editors and authors are sports experts with a wealth of knowledge of the sports industry at all levels. Their coverage includes sports news, previews and predictions, fun facts, and betting.

Our BetMGM editors and authors are sports experts with a wealth of knowledge of the sports industry at all levels. Their coverage includes sports news, previews and predictions, fun facts, and betting.