A House committee hearing showed universal support forming for sports betting legalization in Kansas. But time is running short to reach the finish line this year.
Kansas casinos, racetracks, sports teams, lottery, convenience stores and Native American tribes all offered testimony in support of the House bill Monday at the House Committee on Federal and State Affairs hearing.
The only opposition to House Bill 2740 came from greyhound associations.
Although this was the first House committee hearing on sports wagering this year, clearly the committee worked hard with stakeholders behind the scenes. The bill introduced last week marks a significant step toward legalizing sports betting in Kansas.
Several witnesses remarked on how rare it is for the different gaming entities to agree on anything. Committee chairman Rep. John Barker quipped that he never thought he’d see the day that four casinos were on board with the same issue at the same time.
Support aligns on Kansas sports betting bill
The mass of goodwill expressed at the committee hearing illustrates the complicated compromises reached in the House bill.
The biggest such compromise was between Kansas casinos, which operate under the Kansas Lottery, and billionaire Phil Ruffin. Ruffin’s company owns Wichita Greyhound Park in Sedgwick County. He closed the track in 2007 after a voting referendum to allow slot machines failed.
Since then, Ruffin has tried various legislative proposals to add gaming options for the property. But Kansas’ four casinos opposed any efforts, threatening a lawsuit against the state for repayment of millions of dollars of privilege fees.
Now the casinos agreed not to object to the bill allowing up to 1,000 historical horses racing machines at the Ruffin property.
“After considerable discussion with legislative leaders, Kansas Entertainment concluded that resolving the Sedgewick County issue was key to clearing the way for enacting of sports wagering in Kansas,” said Whitney Damron, a lobbyist for Hollywood Casino at Kansas Speedway.
In return, the casinos can each offer up to three sportsbook apps and the bill bans gray machines.
Also, sports entities and convenience stores can participate in sports betting. But they must do so through marketing agreements with the casinos.
A casino may request approval of one additional skin to go through a professional sports team. Sporting KC, a Major League Soccer club, is the only professional team in the state.
And casinos may enter into up to 50 marketing agreements. Through these marketing agreements, they can put sports betting kiosks at professional sports facilities and convenience stores. At least 10 of these agreements must be with nonprofit fraternal or veterans organizations.
Committee expected to advance bill next week
At the end of the 90-minute hearing, Barker asked committee members if they were ready to advance the bill. Some lawmakers said they needed additional time to go over some of the issues presented in testimony.
Rep. Francis Awerkamp said that, due to the amount of money involved, he wanted time to go through the numbers.
Casinos, although in support of the bill, asked for a lower tax rate than the 20% for mobile and 14% for retail in the House proposal. The Senate bill asks for only 8% for online wagers and 5.5% for retail.
Rep. Vic Miller added that he wanted to discuss problem gambling issues further. The Brianne Doura-Schawohl of the National Council on Problem Gambling asked for 2% of gross gaming revenue to go to the Problem Gambling and Addictions Grant Fund, consistent with the Senate bill. The House bill earmarks a set $100,000 annually.
Rep. Michael Houser pleaded for the committee to move the bill forward immediately with the legislative session winding down.
“We’ve dragged our feet on this issue for four years since 2018. I’m fearful that this gets clogged down if we don’t get it out, and then we go another year without passing this. … We have a good bill here, a good agreement between all parties.”
Because there wasn’t a consensus, Barker said the committee would work the bill Monday, if he gets permission from leadership for that day.
The Kansas legislature takes first adjournment at the end of next week. The legislative calendar notes “No bills considered after this date except bills vetoed by governor, omnibus appropriations act and omnibus reconciliations spending limit bill.”
Since the Senate passed sports betting bill SB 84 last year, House passage would lead to a conference committee to resolve the differences between the bills.