Sports Betting Conference Committee May Not Get Done This Week

Kansas sports betting bill consensus

Coming to a consensus on sports betting language might prove a more time-consuming task than expected for the Kansas House and Senate.

The conference committee formed to work out the differences between the versions of SB 84 passed by each chamber met for the first time Thursday morning.

The meeting came just a day after the House substituted new KS sports betting language and passed the bill back to the Senate.

During the 40-minute hearing, lawmakers heard a report on the differences between the versions. It showed that there remain some key matters for the conference committee to work out.

On Thursday, committee chairs Sen. Robert Olson and Rep. John Barker reportedly were optimistic they could reconcile the differences before the Kansas legislature breaks Friday. Now it seems more of a possibility that the conference committee doesn’t make recommendations until after the legislature returns for a veto session April 25.

“I don’t know if we’ll get done today or tomorrow, but hopefully we can get as far along as we can,” Olson said. “I believe we’ll find the end of the line to be a success. But, to get there, this has been a long road. I don’t want to mess it up, but I believe we’re going to get there.”

Differences between House and Senate sports betting language

The sports wagering discrepancies in each version seem reconcilable. Some of the bigger differences include:

  • Senate tax rate of 8% for online bets and 5.5% for in-person wagers compared to House rate of 20% online, 14% in-person.
  • Taxable revenue for the Senate includes sports wagers less voided wagers, federal excise taxes, approved free-plays and prizes. The House version only deducts voided wagers and prizes.
  • Senate devotes 2% of all sports wagering revenue to be paid to Problem Gambling and Addictions Grant Fund. The House also gives 2% to the fund, but it’s 2% of state’s tax revenue rather than off the top.
  • Senate allows a casino to carry forward negative sports wagering revenues and apply them against positive revenues in a subsequent reporting period.
  • House allows each casino to contract with up to 50 entities to offer interactive sports betting lounges or kiosks. These can include any professional sports facility or minor league team, bars/restaurants, and 20% of such contracts must go to veterans or fraternal nonprofit organizations. The Senate only allows marketing agreements with Kansas Speedway and Children’s Mercy Park.
  • Senate version includes horse racing in the definition of sporting event. The House specifically excludes horse racing.
  • House has sports wagering supplier licensure, particularly for data suppliers.
  • Senate has provisions for patrons to fund their sports wagering account with cash, electronic bank transfers, debit/credit cards, online money transfer systems, promotional funds and any other payment method permitted by the lottery. The House bill prohibits casinos from providing any line of credit to a bettor.
  • House added that if a self-restricted bettor does place a wager and wins a prize, that prize is forfeited to the Problem Gambling and Addictions Grant Fund.
  • Senate requires that the Kansas Racing and Gaming Commission adopt permanent rules and regulations by Jan. 1, 2023.

Biggest differences are outside of sports betting

The biggest additions by the House that could keep the conference committee from reaching a compromise this week have nothing to do with sports betting.

The Senate bill includes online lottery ticket sales with restrictions that the games don’t play like slot machines. The House bill did include this language, but Barker removed it in the final substitute. There was controversy in House committee when colleagues defeated his attempt to remove it. But he circumvented them to do so on the floor.

In the House version, casinos agreed to let a Phil Ruffin-owned racetrack property in Sedgewick County have historical horse racing with a maximum of 1,000 machines.

The House version also bans gray machines, or slot-like video gaming terminals in local bars and stores. But he admitted that the House definition of gray machines probably wouldn’t pass constitutional muster.

During the hearing, he asked the casinos and supporters of electronic gaming machines to come up with compromise language.

“They’re more involved in it than we are, and if we come up with the language probably both parties will not like it,” Barker said. “So I just encourage them to get some language together, submit to the committee and make it easy for us.”

Greyhound issue could get messy

Strangely, something not in either version could end up delaying a compromise.

Greyhound simulcast wagering did not make it into what the House or Senate passed.

However, Barker wants it in the bill. Barker’s district includes Abeline, which is the home of the National Greyhound Association. Greyhound racing with wagering no longer is legal in Kansas, but breeding greyhounds remains a big industry in Barker’s area.

Barker handed out a document supplied by the National Greyhound Association and pleaded with committee members to consider adding simulcast greyhound wagering into the bill.

“We allow simulcast for horses, why not dogs?” Barker said. “… It does have an economic impact in my area, so I just felt obligated to bring that up. I really would encourage you to do some research and see what other states are doing with it. Simulcast is a source of revenue for them.”

Rep. Louis Ruiz, representing the minority party on the committee, said he would push back on including greyhound simulcast wagering.

“A key point that we supported the bill initially was that there wasn’t going to be any involvement with the greyhounds on the parimutuel and the simulcast,” Ruiz said. “That may change my caucus’ perspective on this bill.”

Photo by Ed Zurga / Associated Press