TOPEKA — A bill to legalize sports wagering took a significant step Wednesday, clearing the Kansas House just over 24 hours after the measure appeared to stall in committee.
The future of the bill was up in the air after the House Federal and State Affairs Committee abruptly adjourned Tuesday when an amendment proposed on behalf of legislative leadership failed twice. But in an unusual turn of events, the bill was pulled from the committee by House leadership and placed on the calendar for debate Wednesday.
Representatives approved an amendment offered by Rep. John Barker, R-Abilene, to gut the contents of a competing Senate bill and place the House plan language into it.
“This has been a good debate that’s been ongoing for years,” Barker said. “It’s nice to pass bipartisan bills, and I think we’ve arrived at that today.”
The House approved the bill by an 88 to 36 vote. Senators and representatives will likely conference to iron out differences in the proposals in the coming days.
Legislators backing the measure are hopeful this session will finally see sports wagering legalized through a proposal with widespread support from gaming interests, which have debated for years how to divide revenue and who would control the action. The bill authorizes sports gambling by allowing the Kansas Lottery to contract with gaming facility managers.
Managers could offer wagering through websites, mobile applications and on-site. The state would receive 20% of revenue through online gambling and 14% from in-person bets.
Kansas Lottery estimates indicated sports wagering would generate additional revenue for the state of $1.8 million in 2023, $6.0 million in 2024, and $10.0 million in 2025.
An amendment tacked on by Rep. Vic Miller, D-Topeka would address problem gaming, allowing Kansans to self-identify if they know they have a problem. If those who self-identify make wagers, the winnings would go to the Problem Gambling and Addiction fund as an additional incentive not to gamble.
“I think it is time Kansas joined the rest of the country moving this direction, … so I don’t have a problem with the bill,” Miller said. “But it does have consequences. I have seen it firsthand. I know how devastating it can be. I don’t think this amendment goes nearly far enough to address it, but at least it’s something.”
Rep. Trevor Jacobs, R-Fort Scott, said the fact an amendment needs to be brought to address a problem this bill would further was laughable. He criticized his Republican colleagues for backing ideas expanding access to gambling, alcohol and marijuana, which he saw as contrary to the core of the party platform.
“I’ve got a great idea,” Jacobs said. “Why don’t we present a bill that creates a problem and then puts an amendment in there that tries to fix it. Great idea.”
Rep. Boog Highberger, a Lawrence Democrat, was displeased with the process the bill went through over the past two days but said he would vote for the measure because his constituents supported it.
Throughout the bill process, lawmakers from Kansas have pointed to an effort occurring across the border in Missouri to legalize sports wagering that is inching toward fruition. Kansas representatives expressed an eagerness to see their plan passed first.
Before that, senators and representatives will need to iron out differences in their proposals, including whether to let sportsbooks deduct revenue tied to free play bets from taxable revenue. The Senate version includes, this while the House version does not.
“People in Kansas are doing sports betting right now. I think a lot of people that are doing it don’t even realize it’s illegal,” said House Minority Leader Tom Sawyer, D-Wichita. “It’s time we provide a legal means for people to do it, regulate it and tax it. You know, this bill isn’t perfect, but it’s a compromise.”
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