NewsLocal News


Kansas lawmakers at odds over how to legalize sports betting

Sports Betting
Posted at 1:47 PM, Mar 19, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-19 14:47:56-04

TOPEKA, Kan. — With the first round of college basketball's March Madness underway, Kansas legislators moved closer Friday toward legalizing sports betting, though big disagreements remained over where fans should be able to place wagers.

A state House committee approved a bill that would allow sports betting at four state-owned casinos, racetracks, as many as 1,200 retail stores that sell Kansas Lottery tickets, online and through apps linked to casinos, tracks and the lottery. It next goes to the full House for debate, possibly as early as next week.

The Senate approved [] sports betting earlier this month, but its proposal [] would limit live, online and app wagering to four state-owned casinos, which are operated by private companies under contracts with the lottery. If the House approves a bill, negotiators for the two chambers would have to resolve the differences over who gets to offer wagering.

A federal law barred sports betting in Kansas and most states until the U.S. Supreme Court struck it down [] in 2018. Twenty-five states now allow sports betting, according to the American Gaming Association.

"One of the main reasons that we're trying to do sports betting is there is a huge black market," said Sen. Jeff Longbine, an Emporia Republican. "We would rather have them in a legal, regulated environment."

Kansas officials do not believe the state's take from sports betting would be large, perhaps only several million dollars a year.

But even in a conservative-led, Republican-controlled Legislature, many lawmakers want to tap into wagering that's already occurring in other states or illegally. The University of Kansas has one of college basketball's premiere men's programs, Kansas State University's football team is regularly competitive, and the Kansas City Chiefs are riding high.

The state lottery's oversight of sports betting would be required under the Kansas Constitution, just as it is for casinos other than those operated by Native American tribes.

Supporters of the Senate plan argue that limiting live, online and mobile-app betting to state-owned casino means they - not the lottery - assume the risk of losing money on big events such as the March Madness college basketball tournament or the Super Bowl.

However, Rep. John Barker, an Abilene Republican and the House committee's chair, questioned whether allowing lottery retailers to take wagers would expose the state to much actual risk.

"Over an extended period of time, the odds are always with the house," Barker said.