Political gamesmanship from House leadership and a comment from the Kansas City Chiefs’ president almost doomed Kansas sports betting efforts.
PlayKansas spoke with legislative sources from each chamber and political party to find out what really went down in those crazy final days of the Kansas regular session.
According to these sources, House Speaker Ron Ryckman made last-minute demands with the sports betting bill and played loose with legislative rules when faced with a backlash that would have killed the legislation.
Here’s a breakdown of what happened on the House floor and how it will affect the push to finalize Kansas sports betting legalization when the legislature returns for a veto session on April 25.
Committee hearing turns strange
According to sources, Ryckman first started pulling the strings on the sports betting legislation during a committee hearing earlier in the week.
In the House Committee on Federal and State Affairs, Chairman John Barker did Ryckman’s bidding in proposing an amendment to remove online lottery provisions from the bill.
During the hearing, Barker was asked on whose behalf he was offering this amendment. He said his leadership.
It came out in 2020 that Gov. Laura Kelly wanted iLottery in the sports betting bill. But Ryckman didn’t want online lottery, nor for the governor to get what she wanted. Kelly is a Democrat in a state where Republicans run the legislature.
But both Democrats and Republicans balked at removing the online lottery provision. Rep. Steven Hoye, a Republican, pointed out that removing iLottery would cost the state $11 million annually. Rep. Paul Waggoner, a Republican, agreed, saying he opposed cutting the fiscal note by more than half.
Barker’s amendment failed.
Later, when there was a motion to reconsider, Barker tried to claim it passed on voice vote but was called on it. When the votes were counted individually, the motion failed 10-12.
The House sports betting bill from the committee was expected to advance to the floor during this hearing. But after Barker couldn’t realize the Speaker’s demand to remove iLottery, he abruptly adjourned the hearing without a vote.
Ryckman’s reach extends to conference committee
The next day, Ryckman wielded his power by circumventing the committee. He just had Barker take SB 84, the sports betting bill passed by the Senate, and make all the changes he wanted to in the House bill along with none of the changes he didn’t.
That included dropping the iLottery provisions that held up the committee vote.
The bill passed on the House floor, setting up a conference committee led by Barkman and Sen. Robert Olson. The chairs worked through the differences between the bills, with the Senate conceding to the House on most points. This included the senators agreeing to remove the online lottery provisions in the Senate bill.
On the morning of April 1, the final day of the regular session, Barker made a surprise request. He proposed that the state designate 80% of tax revenue from sports betting to a fund to attract a professional sports team to Kansas. Moneys could go toward bonds financing construction of a new stadium or arena.
A House source confirmed that this amendment, which wasn’t vetted previously in either chamber, came from the Speaker.
And it’s no coincidence the switch came three days after Kansas City Chiefs President Mark Donovan mentioned that the team would consider options to move from Missouri to the Kansas side of Kansas City.
A Senate source said the Senate conferees accepted this use of sports betting revenue because they were told it wouldn’t get through the House without it.
Sources said that Ryckman, who is on his way out of the legislature, sees it as part of his legacy to bring the Chiefs over to Kansas.
Chaos on the House floor
Kansas lawmakers worked late on that final day of the regular session.
Rep. Stephanie Clayton said House members didn’t get the conference report to read until after 10 p.m. And then they were scrambling to read it on their cellphones.
Many didn’t know about the new earmark for sports betting revenue when Rep. Henry Helgerson, a Democrat, stepped up to question it. Ryckman didn’t put in the work to explain the move to members. He just tried to push the conference report through as the clock neared midnight.
It almost backfired.
Helgerson made a motion to reject the conference report. Such a motion almost never succeeds when leaders from each chamber agree to terms on a bill.
But this one did, at least momentarily.
Multiple legislative sources tell PlayKansas that the motion was on its way to passing. Most Democrats pulled their support from the bill in opposition to Ryckman’s power play. Combined with some religious Republicans who go against any gambling expansion, the motion had the votes.
But Ryckman held the vote open against the rules to influence the results and get it tied 56-56. This could be seen in a long delay before the vote was revealed.
Needing a majority, it failed by one vote. If it hadn’t, Kansas sports betting legalization efforts would have had to wait another year.
Barker followed with a motion to adopt the conference report and it passed 63-49.
Why some accepted tax revenue to stadium fund
Clayton still voted against the motion to reject the conference report and then in favor to adopt it. As minority whip, she also tried to fight for a few Democrats to join her in supporting the conference report.
Clayton explained to PlayKansas why she supported the bill despite not liking the Speaker’s shenanigans:
“I was very surprised by the last-minute change in conference. But given the fact that revenues from sports wagering would be relatively small and knowing what I know about budgetary control and that the state finance council has the opportunity to sweep any funds from this attracting a professional sports team fund back into the general fund, that made me comfortable enough to continue to vote yes despite this disappointing provision.”
Clayton said that fiscal projections for sports betting tax revenue in the bill are about $6 million a year.
“I don’t know if I believe this fund alone will be enough to attract teams like the Chiefs or the Royals to the Kansas side,” Clayton said. “But because I support economic development of the Kansas side of Kansas City, the metro side that I represent, I see this as no different than any economic development plan we put in place. This does make some sense, and if needed it can go to the general fund.”
Sweeping various funds into the general fund happens regularly in Kansas. In conference committee, Barker argued that lawmakers shouldn’t put more than 2% of sports betting tax revenue into a problem gambling fund until looking into how the fund regularly gets swept during budgetary proceedings.
If the Chiefs recommit to staying in Missouri in the future, lawmakers could always introduce a bill to end the stadium fund and put sports betting revenue into the general fund.
What this all means for Senate approval
After the House contentiously approved the sports betting conference report, the Senate took a break and returned briefly. The House had already adjourned for the night. Rather than take up the conference report past midnight, the Senate also adjourned.
Sources say that Senate leadership still wants to do the bill.
Ty Masterson, Kansas Senate President, said as much in an interview with the Pete Mundo Show on KCMO radio.
Masterson told Mundo that the delay wasn’t hesitation on the Senate’s part:
“The only reason it didn’t that night is we were late into the evening and the House had probably a dozen or more people checked out. So the Speaker determined that they couldn’t keep going, and so he adjourned and we adjourned just because there weren’t enough people left to keep operating.”
Once the Senate adopts the conference report on SB 82, the bill heads to Kelly’s desk. Legislative sources tell PlayKansas she is still expected to sign the legislation.
Masterson admitted that earmarking revenue toward attracting a professional team was a “last-minute curveball.” But he didn’t think it would affect the outcome in the Senate.
“I’m anticipating that when we come back and wrap up, it’s not even going to be that contested of an issue and it will all finish up,” Masterson said.