Kansas casinos push for control over legalized sports wagering

By: - March 18, 2021 1:57 pm

The House Federal and State Affairs Committee, chaired by Rep. John Barker, R-Abilene, hears testimony Thursday on a bill approved by the Senate that would set the regulatory framework of sports wagering in Kansas. (Noah Taborda/Kansas Reflector)

TOPEKA — Kansas casino managers are pushing House legislators to pass a Senate-backed bill legalizing and regulating online and casino sports gambling.

Since a 2018 U.S. Supreme Court Ruling affirmed state’s rights to institute sports gambling, half the country has enacted some regulatory practice. Kansas lawmakers are now considering joining the 25 states and Washington, D.C., in the world of sports gambling under the Kansas Expanded Lottery Act, or KELA.

Ryan Soultz, vice president of governmental affairs with Boyd Gaming Corporation, operator of Kansas Star Casino in Mulvane, applauded Senate Bill 84 for instituting regulation based on states — Nevada, New Jersey and Indiana among others — that have experienced the best results with sports wagering.

“These are states where sports wagering has proven itself to be a key amenity to drive additional visitation to casinos and where a competitive mobile sports wagering landscape has helped generate revenue, engage new customers and provide bettors a safe, regulated environment for sports wagering as an alternative to offshore sites,” Soultz said.

Ryan Soultz, vice president of governmental affairs with Boyd Gaming Corporation, operator of Kansas Star Casino in Mulvane, said the bill had a stong basis in legislation passed by several states with successful sports wagering platforms. (Screen capture of Kansas Legislature YouTube)

Soultz joined with representatives of state-authorized casinos in Dodge City, Pittsburg and Kansas City, Kansas, in support of the measure Thursday before the House Federal and State Affairs Committee. The bill passed the Senate by a vote of 26-12.

Previous efforts to pass such legislation have fizzled amid competing views of who should manage sportsbooks, the state’s share of betting revenue, and debate over the exclusion of dog tracks. Opponents again expressed opposition not to the prospect of legalized sports gambling but with these operational elements.

Last year, the Senate approved a similar bill legalizing sports wagering at the four state casinos, but the House ignored that measure in favor of a strategy authorizing lottery and convenience retailers to lead the operation. The alternative did not gain traction and died when the session was cut short because of the pandemic.

Paul Davis, a former House minority leader and candidate for governor and Congress who is now representing Kansas Crossing Casino and Hotel in Pittsburg, said limiting platforms to place these wagers is critical to maintaining a well-regulated industry.

“We think that Kansans want to have the ability to engage in sports wagering, and then the question becomes, well, who’s going to do it, and how are we going to do it?” Davis said. “Casinos have significant expertise in this area, and they know how to implement successful sports wagering programs.”

Kevin Fowler, of Boot Hill Casino and Resort in Dodge City, noted an abundance of illegal sports betting across the state of Kansas. While quashing the black market will be no easy task, the proposed measure would offer a direction to properly regulate it. 

“We have an opportunity for the Lottery to legitimize and fairly operate sports wagering using much of the existing infrastructure established by the Kansas Expanded Lottery Act,” Fowler said. “We believe players will prefer the legal application of sports wagering.”

He also noted the impact it could have in attracting people to Kansas.

“The addition will also reduce the number of Kansas citizens driving across the borders to place wagers on sporting events,” Fowler said.


Absence of stakeholders sparks opposition

Several sports betting stakeholders presented neutral or opposing testimony during the hearing, not in protest of a regulated sports wagering platform in Kansas but because they were left out of the bill.

Jim Gartland, executive director of the National Greyhound Association located in Abilene, pushed legislators to remove language excluding greyhound racing and racing facilities from the sports wagering bill. (Screen capture of Kansas Legislature YouTube)

Representatives of the state’s lottery retailers and greyhound racing tracks pushed the committee to allow them to take bets under the new section of KELA. The testimony underscored issues that have stumped similar efforts in the past.

Thomas Palace, executive director of Fuel True — Independent Energy and Convenience, opposed the bill for excluding more than 1,100 convenience retailers and 1,700 lottery retailers that “generate millions of dollars to the State of Kansas.”

“Sports wagering hosted by the Kansas Lottery is a natural fit for current Lottery retailers,” Palace said. “Retailers offering lottery tickets are currently contracted with the Kansas Lottery. They have a financial track record with the Kansas Lottery and have the sufficient resources to support the activities required to conduct sports wagering.”

Perhaps the most vocal concerns were expressed by those lobbying on behalf of greyhound breeders and racetracks. Several individuals testified they would support the bill if it included greyhounds and was “fair to all parties concerned.”

“I would hope that perhaps greyhound racing would be afforded the opportunity to enjoy some of the same wagering platforms that are being offered for sports betting,” said Jim Gartland, executive director of the National Greyhound Association located in Abilene. “I certainly do not want to see greyhound racing excluded, or should I say discriminated against as has been the case in many of the proposed bills.”

Gartland said exclusion of this group would open the door to future legal challenges.

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Noah Taborda
Noah Taborda

Noah Taborda started his journalism career in public radio at KBIA in Columbia, Missouri, covering local government and producing an episode of the podcast Show Me The State while earning his bachelor’s degree in radio broadcasting at the University of Missouri School of Journalism. Noah then made a short move to Kansas City, Missouri, to work at KCUR as an intern on the talk show Central Standard and then in the newsroom, reporting on daily news and feature stories.