Published: February 25, 2018

Kansas sports gambling bill bets on US Supreme Court case

A House bill would have Kansas “ready to go” in a race to legalize sports betting when the U.S. Supreme Court rules whether states could legalize gambling on athletic events.

Members of a House committee were expected to hear testimony on the bill in the coming weeks.

The bill would legalize sports betting in Kansas under the purview of the state lottery assuming the U.S. Supreme Court declares it legal. The nation’s high court is considering a case from New Jersey that would open doors across the country for legalized sports gambling, which is banned in most states.

Rep. Jan Kessinger, an Overland Park Republican and a former member of the Kansas Racing and Gaming Commission, is one of the lawmakers backing the bill, which was introduced Monday. He said legalizing sports gambling would allow the state to regulate it, which would protect consumers from scamming and cheating in illegal betting markets and bring much-needed revenue to the state.

According to the American Gaming Association, sports betting amounts to a $150 billion annual underground market. Kessinger and proponents say Kansas represents $1.3 billion of that illegal gaming each year and legal gaming would bring in $100 million in state revenue.

“If $1.3 billion is already being bet in Kansas, why would we not want to regulate it? Currently, you’ve got illegal betting going on,” Kessigner said. “Let’s regulate it. Let’s control it, and let’s from that generate $100 million in revenue.”

Kessinger’s bill would allow the Kansas Lottery to operate the sports betting market at the state’s casinos or online. Another bill before the Legislature would allow betting at horse tracks in Kansas, but bills allowing tracks to install slot machines have not fared well.

Rep. John Barker, an Abilene Republican and chair of the House Federal and State Affairs Committee, said he expected to hold a hearing on Kessinger’s bill in the coming weeks, but he was not yet sure whether he would hold a vote or support it himself.

Legislators last year passed a bill allowing the Kansas Lottery to sell tickets from vending machines despite concerns the decision represented an expansion of gaming. Former Gov. Sam Brownback later vetoed the bill. Kessinger said critics of gaming could prove a barrier for his bill.

“The biggest obstacle this would face in Kansas is from those who construe it as an expansion of gaming,” Kessinger said.

Kessinger didn’t believe the bill to be an expansion of gambling because it creates another game at casinos already operating in the state under the authority of the lottery.

Rep. John Whitmer, a Wichita Republican, cast doubt on whether the bill would pass the House committee. He said he hadn’t looked at the bill yet, but wasn’t sure he’d support it.

“Generally, my constituents tend to be pretty conservative, so I don’t imagine they’d be in favor of expanded gaming and expanded gambling,” Whitmer said.

Rep. Louis Ruiz, a Kansas City Democrat, said he didn’t see why people shouldn’t be allowed to bet on games in Kansas and expected it would pass.

The sports betting bill would allow wagers on college and professional sports, though the NCAA has adamantly opposed gambling on the college sports it governs. The league “opposes all forms of legal and illegal sports wagering,” according to its website.

Under the bill, leagues could opt out.

According to the New York Times, the NBA advocated last month for legalized sports gambling nationwide.

In a statement, the Kansas City Royals emphasized the importance of including protections for fans in the bill.

“The legislation introduced [Monday] contains some of the strongest possible protections and requirements for the lottery to work hand-in-hand with Major League Baseball to monitor betting,” the club said. “Our relationship with our fans requires nothing less, and if the Legislature is going to pass a sports betting law, it must contain the protections included in this bill.”

The Kansas City Chiefs declined to comment.

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