Well … how do you feel about horse racing? Because, a pretty damn decent college basketball team aside, sports and betting have always been about horse racing. Indeed, if Kentucky culture is to be defined as a discrete entity, a very large bit is devoted to the Kentucky Derby, the state’s sole true world-class sports event. Indeed, the Derby and its related interests loom over the miniscule gambling industry, against which a conservative hardline is usually taken.
Betting in Kentucky
While pari-mutuel betting at the racetracks is quite popular and legally accounted for, the exact opposite is true of nearly every other form of gambling – again, thanks to the horse racing industry. For example, no casinos are open for business in Kentucky, but state legislators have made legal allowance for slot machines and other electronic games at gaming only at the Churchill Downs racetrack.
Betting in all forms – except on horse racing – was explicitly outlawed for most of the state’s history: Thanks to the lottery craze which hit American in the 1800s, the state constitution was reworked in the 1840s so as to outlaw numbers games. In ’75, Kentucky put itself on the sportsman’s map with the first running of the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs. Technically, wagering on these and other horse races in Kentucky was against the law, but the practice was essentially merely ignored. Naturally, Kentucky was one of the first states to introduce the French system of pari-mutuel betting at its racetracks.
Little changed until 1988. In that year, state legislators got around to allowing the creation of a state lottery – a good 15 years after northerly states such as New York and Massachusetts had pioneered the concept. Four years later, charity gaming was officially allowed, and pull-tabs were introduced as well.
In 2008, Kentucky’s attorney general decided to take a tack in the fight against online gambling by state citizens. Under auspices of state law and the federal Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA) passed in 2005, Kentucky authorities seized and shut down over 140 gambling websites. The same year, the government filed a lawsuit against BWin, alleging the gambling website had taken bets from Kentucky residents even after passage of UIGEA. In 2010, then-governor Steve Brashear announced that settlements in the two incidents had earned the state $21 million.
In 2014, Churchill Downs licensure to host casino games was reupped through ’20; that same year, Kentucky legislators were faced with the rise in popularity of unregulated DFS. While fantasy football betting wasn’t outlawed, Kentucky lawmakers are hardly known for their progressive attitudes – as a result, as of 2018, DFS betting is still in a state of legal limbo.
Football in Kentucky
The University of Kentucky Wildcats and Louisville Cardinals are well storied sports teams – in basketball. We may mention a few highlights from Wildcats history, though; stick around and NFLbets’ll drop in a factoid or two that only the hardcore fans probably know.
Like all American colleges of any repute, U. Kentucky’s football team dates back to the 19th century. Beginning play in 1881, Kentucky wouldn’t make a bowl game until 1950, but may count one of the all-time great college teams of the 1800s in the 1898 Kentucky Immortals. All these guys did was go 7-0-0 and *not allow a single point*. The Wildcats moniker was adopted in 1909 after a local journalist had asked the adjective to describe the team’s play in an upset win over the Fighting Illini.
The Wildcats enjoyed some success over the coming decades, the team’s golden age began in 1946. That year, a coach with just one year’s worth of head coaching experience was hired; two seasons later, the team would be playing in its first bowl game. In the 1947, Paul “Bear Bryant” won his first bowl game as a head coach, leading the Wildcats to a 24-14 over Villanova.
In fact, University of Kentucky football might be able to claim the 1950 national championship title were it not for an ineffable bit of rule-making. As it turns out, the final, officially-accepted Associated Press NCAA football poll was taken *before* bowl season. The 11-1 Wildcats ended up no. 7 in that poll, but topped QB Babe Parelli and the Sooners in the 1951 Sugar Bowl, 13-7. Though clearly after the bowl games, only Kentucky or Tennessee (who won the Cotton Bowl and had handed the Wildcats their only loss of ’50) had serious claim to the top dog spot, but history says #1 in 1950 was Oklahoma.
Under Bryant, the Wildcats finished in the top 20 four times and the 1952 Cotton Bowl win over TCU would be the school’s last bowl game appearance until the 1976 Peach Bowl. The ’Cats have made fairly regular appearances in post-season games since the bowl-happy 1990s, with a 3-7 record accrued between 1993 and 2018.
Kentucky’s other big school, Louisville, first fielded a football team in 1912. After a hiatus from the game in the late 1910s, the 1925 team went 7-0 while allowing a scanty 2 points all season. From 1928 through ’46, though, the Cardinals posted just one winning season. But the 1950s would bring the player who would quite literally ultimately become the greatest of his time: Johnny Unitas – unfortunately, his Cardinals career should little of his future promise.
In 1951, Unitas subbed in at QB in game five, tossed three TD passes and remained the starter. Unitas then took the 1-4 Cardinals on a 4-1 run to end the season. For ’52, the university president had a surprise: Massive cuts to the athletic program. The Wildcats dropped 15 scholarship players and those remaining became two- (or, in Unitas’s case, three-)way players. They’d go 3-5 that year and 1-7 the next as a result, and Unitas was knocked out of his senior season early thanks to injury.
While highlights in Louisville history may bit a bit sparse, the team’s current coach may be its best ever as the Cardinals continue to gain a reputation as a consistently quality program in the 2010s. In two stints with the club, Bobby Petrino has run up a 75-27 regular-season and 2-4 bowl-game record as head coach going into 2018.
In terms of pro football, Louisville was home to a kinda sorta NFL team in the 1920s. The Louisville Brecks were added to the new National Football League for the 1921 season, but played just two games against NFL teams. The Brecks played a few games in the 1922 and ’23 seasons, were briefly resurrected as the Colonels in ’26, but then folded. The *cumulative* record of this All-Kentuckian team against NFL teams was 1-12. And you wonder why you’ve never heard of Kentucky’s NFL team…
Betting on Football in Kentucky
Currently, daily fantasy football betting is in a legal gray area. As of mid-2017, Kentucky was one of nine states (along with Connecticut, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin) which are considering whether to illegalize DFS as a game of chance. Kentucky officials are among the aforementioned in having commissioned a “predominance test” of DFS betting, a mathematics-based analysis of the relative levels of skill involved in a given form of gambling.
Such studies could prove crucial within a few years, as on both federal and district court levels is the legality of sports betting considered. Establishing daily fantasy sports as skill-based games could well go far in determining that traditional football betting is hardly a game of chance. Interesting, too, to consider that Kentucky is, along with North Carolina, one of the few Southern states conservative on gambling which is at least considering the regulation of DFS betting.