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Kansas sports betting legislation stalls as both chambers show different approaches

kansas-sports-betting-legislation-stalls-as-both-chambers-show-different-approaches

T

he recent initiative to legalize sports betting in Kansas has stalled, amid a lack of consensus over the number of licenses for the business and other gambling issues.

Some sports betting supporters believe they still have time before the Legislature wraps up its business for the year in May to get a bill passed if it’s closer to a Senate proposal allowing only a handful of in-person wagering sites than to a House version allowing hundreds, the Associated Press reports. But they have to overcome the opposition of a House committee chair who would have a key role in drafting any compromise.

In addition, some Democrats seek to ban greyhound racing, which would also make the bill’s success more difficult. But the House rejected the idea, costing its sports betting plan additional votes. The mix of competing interests led the House last week to vote 77-40 against giving a sports betting bill first-round approval, leaving it in limbo. “We’ll get a chance to take another crack at this, but you’ve got to thread the needle,” said Rep. Stephanie Clayton, an Overland Park Democrat.

Kansas officials believe the state’s take from sports betting could be only several million dollars a year. But even in a conservative-led, Republican-controlled Legislature, many lawmakers want to tap into wagering already occurring in other states or illegally

The Senate’s plan would limit on-site betting to Kansas’ four state-owned casinos and give them control of online and app wagering. Supporters say that in exchange, the casinos would assume the risk of losses from betting on big events such as the NCAA’s March Madness college basketball tournament.

The state constitution requires the Kansas Lottery to oversee sports betting, just as it requires lottery ownership of casino gambling outside of Native American tribal casinos. The lottery contracts with private companies to run the state-owned casinos.

Sen. Jeff Longbine, an Emporia Republican who shepherded the Senate’s plans to passage on a 26-12 vote in early March, said he sees several options for passing a bill, but added: “The Senate has a very solid position.”

The House plan would allow betting at the state-owned casinos, now-closed racetracks, as many as 1,200 retail stores that sell Kansas Lottery tickets, online and through apps linked to casinos, the tracks and the lottery. Clayton described it as the more “free-market” approach to sports betting. The House plan also would give the state a larger share of the profits from sports betting: 14% from in-person betting and 20% from online and app wagering, compared to 5.5% and 8% under the Senate plan.

The chair of the House committee that drafted its plan, Republican Rep. John Barker, of Abilene, is a vocal opponent of what he derides as the Senate’s “casino bill.” He also dismisses an argument that the House plan leaves taxpayers more at risk of shouldering betting losses. Barker isn’t ruling more work on the legislation this year. He said if supporters of the Senate’s plan present a new proposal, “we can work something out.” But he added, “It can’t be their proposal.”

Meanwhile, some lawmakers see the bill also as an opportunity to revive racetracks. State law allows lottery-owned slot machines at the tracks, but their owners have for years said the state’s share of the revenue is too high to make slots profitable. The House committee added an amendment to drop the state’s share of slots revenue but later stripped the provision out when it appeared likely to hurt the bill. The House plan included a proposal to allow Sedgwick County voters to reconsider allowing slots at the closed Wichita Greyhound Park after rejecting the idea in 2007, an idea that divides area legislators.

Some lawmakers argued that such moves would prompt casino owners to sue the state for allegedly violating their contracts with the lottery. Barker is skeptical the casinos would prevail, but other House members see a big risk. 

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