WV Sportsbooks Shouldn’t Worry About Kentucky Sports Betting Coming In September

Written By Hill Kerby on July 20, 2023
West Virginia sportsbooks shouldn't be overly concerned about the new launch of KY sports betting in September.

Kentucky sports betting launches in September, with mobile betting set to go live on Sept. 28. It will mark the fourth and final state bordering West Virginia to legalize online sports betting.

Kentucky’s horse racing history is almost as old as the US itself. Now, it’s about to begin the first chapter of its sports betting story.

Each of West Virginia’s previous bordering states’ launches (Maryland, Ohio and Virginia) came at various points in West Virginia sports betting history and had differing effects – if any – as a result. 

The Bluegrass State brings its own circumstances to legal sports betting. But how much will it affect West Virginia

Kentucky is its own market

Sports betting will be a success in Kentucky from day one, and it won’t be from poaching its neighbors’ business. Its rich race history has blossomed in recent years, becoming an $8 billion industry from its nine licensed horse tracks.

Initial projections for Kentucky sports betting estimate a $2.13 billion handle in its first year, roughly the size of Iowa’s market. Kentucky has 4.5 million residents, around 40% more than Iowa’s 3.2 million. 

It’s also 254% more than West Virginia’s 1.8 million population. 

Furthermore, Kentucky shares a border with seven states, six of which have legal sports betting. Its major cities are closest to Indiana and Ohio, the former of which stands the highest risk of poaching due to its proximity to Louisville.

Legal betting age could be a factor

Kentucky will become the fifth state with an 18-year-old legal sports betting age when it launches. The other four are Wyoming, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Washington, DC.

A recent survey from PlayKentucky found 71% of residents preferred the age to be 21, but Kentucky’s horse racing laws already allow 18-year-olds to place bets. As a result, the state will have to take an active approach toward responsible gambling practices, especially when protecting college athletes and restricting underage gamblers.

Though a small demographic, Kentucky could become an attractive market for responsible bettors aged 18-20 from neighboring states, West Virginia included.

Early competitors didn’t affect West Virginia sports betting

West Virginia legalized sports betting in 2018, opening retail sportsbooks at the end of August. WV mobile sportsbooks went live in December 2018 and experienced two years without nearby competition until Virginia joined the market in January 2021.

Virginia’s launch came amidst a sports betting boom, with dozens of states going live in a short timeframe. West Virginia sports betting revenue was growing, too, and Virginia’s launch did not affect that. 

West Virginia’s 2021 handle expanded by nearly 40% year over year upon Virginia sportsbooks joining the market. These numbers are likely inflated slightly by COVID in 2020, but still showed significant gains:

  • 2019: $226 million handle; $19.1 million revenue
  • 2020: $392.5 million handle; $26.5 million revenue
  • 2021: $546.9 million handle; $45.1 million revenue
  • 2022: $571.3 million handle; $50.8 million revenue

Market maturity sends mixed messages

Maryland was WV’s second border state to launch online sports betting. Its books went live in November 2022, representing the best comparison to Kentucky’s pending launch.

Maryland, too, has its own gambling history, albeit a much younger one than Kentucky. 

Casinos opened in the Old Line State in 2012. Retail sports betting followed in 2021. Its 6 million residents were hungry for online sports betting, irrespective of its proximity to West Virginia. It is thriving through eight months of mobile betting, and signs point to that continuing as it reaches maturity.

West Virginia has a different definition of maturity, though. Its year-over-year handle fell for the final four months of 2022, suggesting its market had peaked even before Maryland’s launch.

Ohio sports betting launch affected lots of states

Numbers have fallen further to start 2023, suggesting Ohio’s Jan. 1 launch hurt West Virginia sportsbooks the most of the three. Through May, the Mountain State’s sportsbooks have handled $206.5 million in wagers, down nearly 17% from $248.4 million in 2022.

However, Ohio projects to be a top-five market with over $8 billion in sports betting volume in its first year. Its effects reach beyond West Virginia.

Of the four legal sports betting states bordering Ohio, only Pennsylvania is staving off a major decrease in handle since it has gone live. Its YTD handle so far this year through May is nearly even ($3.16 billion to $3.17 billion; -0.3% YoY), while the rest are down by double digits:

  • West Virginia: -16.9% YoY
  • Michigan: -12.5% YoY
  • Indiana: -11.4% YoY

West Virginia sportsbooks will be just fine

Despite the drop in handle to start 2023, sports betting revenue is up. West Virginia sportsbooks have reported $17.6 million in revenue through May, up 7% from $16.4 million last year.

We are into our fifth year of WV sports betting, with the market fully maturing, as all neighboring states serve their own populations. Monthly data has been sporadic throughout its entire history, including a record $88 million handle standing since November 2021.

The picture will become clearer, and numbers will reach their true mean over the next 18 months. 

West Virginia won’t be as big of a market as its neighbors. But it’s also a smaller state, and its sports betting market will remain healthy as neighboring markets mature in their own time.

Photo by Shutterstock.com
Hill Kerby Avatar
Written by
Hill Kerby

Hill Kerby comes from a background of poker, sports and psychology. He brings all of that expertise into his writing, where he contributes content in the growing legalized sports betting, online casino and gambling industry.

View all posts by Hill Kerby
Privacy Policy