House, Senate renew annual rivalry on Kansas legislation legalizing sports gambling

House bill includes lottery retailers in mix along with casinos, racetracks

Rep. John Barker, an Abilene Republican and chairman of the House Federal and State Affairs Committee, outlined a House bill to legalize sports gambling in Kansas and allow lottery retailers and casino or racetrack managers to take sports bets. (Sherman Smith/Kansas Reflector)

TOPEKA — Abilene Rep. John Barker offered a fresh layer of personal irritation Wednesday about the three-year-old Kansas legislative conflict between lottery retailers and casino managers on the best way to implement legalized sports gambling statewide.

Barker, who has taken a keen interest in developing sports gambling bills, is chief advocate for House Bill 2199 that would authorize the Kansas Lottery to contract with up to 1,200 lottery ticket retailers as well as state-affiliated casinos and racetracks to implement a system of legal sports wagering. The House measure stands in contrast to Senate Bill 84, which would enable casino operators in Pittsburg, Mulvane, Dodge City and Kansas City, Kansas, to corner the market for in-person and online sports betting in Kansas to the exclusion of lottery retailers.

Barker expressed frustration to members of the House Federal and State Affairs Committee about refusal of the state’s casino managers to muffle objections to the House bill’s inclusion of lottery retailers in the legislation.

“All gaming in the state of Kansas is owned and operated by the state of Kansas based upon our constitution,” Barker said. “We contract with casinos. They work for us through our lottery. We have tried to work compromises with them and it’s been very difficult. It is my belief the Senate bill was written by the casinos, because they are in charge of everything. It’s like the tail wagging the dog.”

The Kansas House Federal and State Affairs Committee is exploring a bill to legalize sports gambling in Kansas by authorizing casinos and lottery retailers to engage in those transactions. The Senate has a competing bill that excludes lottery retailers from the law. (Screen capture/Kansas Reflector)

Since the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in 2018 allowing every state to regulate sports gambling, 25 states and the District of Columbia have approved some form of legal wagering on sports activities.

Jeff Morris, representing Penn National Gaming as operators of the Hollywood Casino at the Kansas Speedway in Kansas City, Kansas, said the company would oppose the House bill in testimony Thursday before the House committee.

We believe legal sports betting has the potential to provide a meaningful shot in the arm to Kansas‘ gaming industry and to provide a new revenue stream to the state of Kansas,” he said. “We believe it is critical that the operation of retail and mobile sports betting be limited to existing licensed gaming operators, who have invested billions in economic development in Kansas.”

He said Hollywood Casino preferred the Senate bill’s approach to establishing the state treasury’s share of sports gaming revenue. The Senate bill would receive from casinos 7.5% on in-house sports revenue and 10% on the online bets. The House measure would set the state’s share at 14% for in-house casino or track bets and 20% for online wagers handled by casinos or tracks. The House bill would require the Kansas Lottery to negotiate with retailers for how much the state’s take would be on sports ticket sales.

Under the House bill, the Kansas Lottery would contract with retailers, casino and racetrack operators to initiate sports wagering in the state. Casino and racetrack gaming facility managers would be allowed to offer sports wagering in-person at their facilities or over the internet through websites and mobile device applications approved by the Kansas Lottery.

Sports gaming would be open to no more than 1,200 lottery retailers in addition to the four state-owned casinos, tribal casinos and the now-closed racetracks owned by billionaire Las Vegas casino owner Phil Ruffin.

Jason Watkins, a lobbyist for Ruffin’s companies, said he appreciated the House bill would allow the closed racetracks to be part of sports wagering. The prospect of handling sports books and separate proposals to lower the state tax on racetrack slot machine revenue from 40% to 22% are keys to redevelopment of the tracks, he said.

“We’re not in the Senate version and we’re not sure why we didn’t get a seat at the table. It really doesn’t make sense not to include tracks if you’re going to include casinos,” Watkins said.

The House bill would prohibit sports wagering by people under 21 years of age, but Democratic Rep. Vic Miller of Topeka expressed interest in lowering the legal limit on sports betting to 18. Miller said people under 21 were wagering online at offshore sites and the state should make an effort to draw those people into a legal gambling framework.