By Stephen Koranda – Kansas News Service
TOPEKA, Kansas — Kansans thinking about wagering a few bucks on the Kansas City Chiefs’ Super Bowl appearance this weekend would have to go to one of 14 states to do it legally.
But by later this year, sports betting could be legal in Kansas. This year’s bill is a compromise — allowing people over 21 to gamble on sports through the companies that run the state-owned casinos and via online apps. And it has some critical support.
“I feel confident that this year there will be a bill done, a solution passed,” said Republican Sen. Bud Estes, chairman of the Senate Federal and State Affairs Committee.
Lawmakers are taking another crack at the issue after sports gambling legislation struck out at the end of the 2019 session, held up by disagreements over who’d run the betting and manage mobile-gaming apps.
But a final agreement will need a key compromise between casino operators and state regulators with the Kansas Lottery, because those are groups with the largest interests. Under the state constitution, the Lottery must ultimately run Kansas gambling.
“There’s a lot of players involved, excuse the pun,” Estes said after Wednesday’s Wednesday.
Millions of dollars in state revenue are at stake, though no one expects sports gambling to solve Kansas’ budget problems. Under the plan, the state would levy a 7.5% tax on revenue from in-person bets and 10% on online bets.
State budget staff estimated at least $500 million in sports bets, which would ultimately leave $25 million for taxes, fees and profit. In the end, that would put $2.25 million in state coffers.
This year’s stats
Sports betting apps are critical, according to Jeff Morris, vice president of public affairs and government relations for Penn National Gaming. That company runs the Hollywood Casino in Kansas City, Kansas.
The new bill would allow only people physically located in Kansas — wherever that might be — to gamble through an app. The casino companies would have the option to run the apps. If they declined, it would fall to the state lottery.
Currently, Kansans can gamble on the Super Bowl (or other sporting events) in other states like Nevada or Iowa. They also can wager through illegal gaming websites based in other countries.
“Those players are still going to be wagering illegally,” he said, “and you miss out on a significant piece of sports betting across the country.”
Local governments say the proposal is missing one thing: shifting some revenue to cities and counties.
Under current law, local governments get a cut from the state-owned casinos to help pay for the roads, infrastructure and services leading to the casinos.
The League of Kansas Municipalities argues sports gaming revenue should be no different.
“It is foreseeable that more people will be making their way to these facilities, increasing the burden on local government entities,” said John Goodyear, the group’s staff attorney.
The National Council on Problem Gaming doesn’t oppose the bill, but wants some of the money to go toward treatment and restrictions that could help limit gambling addictions, such as barring messages that encourage players to bet higher amounts.
Notably absent from this week’s testimony: professional sports leagues. Last year, a sticking point was that Major League Baseball and other leagues wanted a cut of any gaming revenue because they’d have to spend money monitoring for cheating related to gambling.
Estes said payments to sports leagues didn’t materialize in other states that have legalized gambling, so it likely won’t be part of the discussion this year.
“That question is off the table,” he said. “That simplified it a lot.”
Stephen Koranda is the Statehouse reporter for Kansas Public Radio and the Kansas News Service. You can follow him on Twitter @kprkoranda.
The Kansas News Service is a collaboration of KCUR, Kansas Public Radio, KMUW and High Plains Public Radio focused on health, the social determinants of health and their connection to public policy. Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished by news media at no cost with proper attribution and a link to ksnewsservice.org.