Pandemic puts nearly $100 million squeeze on Kansas casino, lottery revenue

Rep. Troy Waymaster, left, a Republican from Bunker Hill, says the COVID-19 pandemic will erode casino and lottery revenue relied on by the state government to invest in economic development programs. (Nick Krug for Kansas Reflector)
Rep. Troy Waymaster, left, a Republican from Bunker Hill, says the COVID-19 pandemic will erode casino and lottery revenue relied on by the state government to invest in economic development programs. (Nick Krug for Kansas Reflector)

TOPEKA — Revenue at the four state-owned casinos and through Kansas Lottery ticket sales plunged nearly $100 million last fiscal year as COVID-19 undermined operations at legal games of skill and chance, officials said Wednesday.

Stephen Durrell, executive director of the Kansas Lottery, said the casinos in Dodge City, Mulvane, Pittsburg and Kansas City, Kan., closed March 23 and didn’t reopen for two months. By the end of the fiscal year June 30, the casinos reported revenue declines of 15% to 20% for a total decline of $77 million compared to the previous fiscal year. Overall revenue slumped from $411 million to $334 million.

The draw and instant lottery games available with the Kansas Lottery remained available to consumers despite spread of COVID-19, Durrell said. Sales of lottery tickets in Kansas slipped about $20 million or 7%. Interest in the large jackpot games such as Powerball suffered the greatest decline, he said, while more modest instant scratch lottery tickets did better.

“Obviously,” he said, “COVID has had a very significant impact on the lottery operations like most other businesses.”

Financial performance of the Kansas Lottery, which includes the casinos and lottery, has a direct influence on the amount of money would be available for investment in state economic development programs. It’s not clear how much less lawmakers will have to appropriate once they return to Topeka for the 2021 legislative session in January.

“It could make the budgeting next year interesting,” said Rep. Troy Waymaster, a Bunker Hill Republican and chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.

Durrell said lottery ticket sales in August were 14% higher than in August 2019. Revenue at the four casinos in August was 17% below levels of one year ago, he said.

“We’re doing better,” he said. “The casinos are still down from where they were previously just because of the patrons they’re allowing in at one time.”

He also there were fewer players at the casinos but they were wagering more per-person. He also said casinos were taking a hard line on enforcement of a requirement that guests wear a mask.

“Steady players at the facilities who have basically refused to wear masks have been asked to leave those facilities. That’s not exactly easy to do to ask some of your bigger patrons to leave,” Durrell said.