Many people don’t realize how close Kansas came to passing sports betting legislation last year.
After the Senate passed a bill for the second year in a row, the House had leaders in each party pushing for legalizing sports betting. Rep. Tom Sawyer told PlayKansas:
“When you have the majority leader and minority leader supporting something, you’d think we could get it done.”
Sawyer, who serves as House minority leader, explained that the bill stalled when Kansas casinos opposed House changes.
This year, Sawyer is confident that lawmakers can get Kansas sports betting legislation to the finish line. He said:
“I think we can get it through this year. We were able to do a postmortem on what happened. I think we can avoid those same issues and get at least three of the casinos onboard.”
Kansas gaming landscape
Commercial gambling is illegal in Kansas. Casino-style gaming can only occur when the state owns the casino games and regulates the operation of the facility.
As a result, the state’s four casinos are controlled by the lottery. They are:
- Boot Hill Casino and Resort in Dodge City
- Kansas Star Casino in Mulvane
- Hollywood Casino in Kansas City
- Kansas Crossing Casino in Pittsburg
The Kansas casinos have anticipated the legislature passing a bill for a while. They all have sportsbook operators lined up for when the state gives them approval.
Last year, Bally’s announced a partnership with Boot Hill to handle its mobile sportsbook.
Kansas Star Casino is owned and operated by Boyd Gaming, which has an ownership stake in FanDuel. Hollywood Casino is owned and operated by Penn National Gaming, which is partnered with Barstool Sportsbook. Kansas Crossing Casino previously struck a deal with PointsBet.
Kansas has four federally recognized Indian tribes that operate casinos in the state, as well as an Oklahoma tribe with two casinos. It is unclear in what manner they would be able to participate. But previous bills did mention they can renegotiate compacts to include sports betting.
What happened with sports betting legislation last year
Last year, the Senate passed a sports betting bill in early March 2021. This bill was just what the casinos wanted:
- Allowed betting on professional and college sports, including in-state colleges such as Kansas University and Kansas State.
- Each casino could open a retail sportsbook and partner with up to three mobile sports betting platforms.
- The casinos paid a low tax rate of 5.5% for in-person wagers and 8% for online wagers. Another 2% for each type of wagers goes toward a problem gambling fund.
- The Kansas Speedway NASCAR track and MLS team Sporting Kansas City’s stadium could partner with casinos for online sports betting.
The House Committee on Federal and State Affairs wanted to limit casino involvement and get more money for the state. Its changes included:
- Limited each casino to one mobile sports betting partner.
- Allowed the lottery to partner directly with an online sports betting platform.
- Permitted sports betting at 1,200 lottery retail vendors.
- Raised the tax rate to 14% for wagers at casinos and 20% for online wagers.
“Casinos wanted to control it all, and that was the thing that kind of bogged us down. You’d think people would compromise a bit to get something done, but I think the casinos would rather have nothing than something for which they didn’t have total control,” Sawyer said.
Legalization efforts are already underway in 2022
In a Senate Committee on Federal and State Affairs informational hearing on Jan. 12, legislators went over the differences between last year’s House and Senate bills.
The hearing on the third day of the legislative session illustrated increased urgency to pass sports betting legislation in Kansas this year. Committee chairman Sen. Robert Olson pledged to work with counterparts in the House to find a compromise. Sawyer also had this to say about it:
“Last year, the public wasn’t really paying attention to the bill. It got to the floor and then people started paying a lot more attention. Now, people know it’s on the radar and a lot of legislators are hearing more from constituents saying we’ve got to get this thing passed.”
Each chamber’s Committee on Federal and State Affairs will once again draft sports betting legislation. Rep. John Barker chairs the House committee.
Sawyer thinks a middle ground can be reached between the previous Senate and House proposals to make the casinos happy but get more for the state. Previous reports indicated Gov. Laura Kelly wanted the state to get more out of sports betting than laid out in the Senate bill.
The Kansas legislative session runs to April 1.
“I think we’ll give the casinos a little bit more. They’re not going to control the whole process. Our lottery will. But I think we’ll give the casinos a little bit more of what they want. We’ll up those numbers so they get more when it’s done at a casino, and I think that will help,” Sawyer said.