by Mary Rupert
A sports betting bill passed the Kansas Senate Wednesday, while a Woodlands amendment to the bill failed.
The Senate sports betting bill would allow Kansas residents to bet on sports events through the state-owned casinos, either at the casinos or on an app (or application) on smart phones. There are four state-owned casinos, including Hollywood Casino in Kansas City, Kansas.
The Senate bill could be viewed as a victory for the existing four state-owned casinos, while not for The Woodlands, and not for other sports betting proposals that would have put more responsibility directly on the Kansas Lottery to run sports betting.
The Kansas House has a different bill on sports betting that is currently in committee, and if that bill passes, the issue would likely go to a conference committee to work out the differences, according to Mike Taylor, Unified Government lobbyist.
Woodlands amendment fails
State Sen. Kevin Braun, R-5th Dist., who supported efforts of The Woodlands to reopen, offered an amendment to the Senate sports betting bill that would have provided more slots revenue to racetrack operators.
The amendment was defeated, 18 against and 17 in favor. It would have needed two more votes to pass.
State Sen. David Haley, D-4th Dist., voted for The Woodlands amendment.
Sen. Haley said he was disappointed at the failure of the amendment, and added he has been a champion of The Woodlands reopening. Time could be running out to reopen The Woodlands, he believes. Sen. Haley said he thinks most Wyandotte Countians support reopening The Woodlands.
State Sen. Pat Pettey, D-6th Dist., did not vote for The Woodlands amendment. Her vote on the amendment, according to the legislative records, was “pass.”
“As a state we have a contract that would be violated, and according to the Kansas attorney general, we could have to pay $150,000,000 back to the casino,” Sen. Pettey stated. “As you know the Woodlands has been neglected by the owner, and there is presently nothing prohibiting him from improving the property and reopening. I am supportive of that happening, but not at a steep cost to WyCo taxpayers.”
Taylor said legislators have been waiting for Phil Ruffin, Woodlands owner, to offer his version of a Woodlands bill, but that had not happened yet. He said perhaps most of the legislators did not want to vote for an amendment that was not directly from Ruffin, as that might confuse things later.
The UG supports The Woodlands reopening, Taylor said. Its position has changed in the past several years under different elected officials. Currently, the UG supports a bill allowing The Woodlands to reopen.
Former legislation that was passed would still allow The Woodlands to reopen, but the track owners would have to pay a 40 percent slots tax to the state, while the casinos pay only 22 percent, he said. The proposed amendment would have required tracks to pay the same amount, 22 percent. Ruffin has said that the change to 22 percent needs to be made or it wouldn’t be financially feasible to reopen the track, Taylor said.
Previous owners of the horse track had agreed to the 40 percent, but later said they couldn’t afford to operate under it.
The casino operators have previously stated that allowing the racetracks to reopen with the 22 percent tax would amount to a breach of contract, and the state would owe them in excess of $100 million in damages, he added. “We’ll just have to watch and see what happens with that,” he said. There is some disagreement from others that the state would have to pay for damages, he added.
Sports betting bill passes Senate
The sports betting bill, without The Woodlands amendment, passed the Senate on a vote of 23-15 on Wednesday, with Sen. Braun voting in favor of it and Sen. Haley and Sen. Pettey voting no.
Sen. Haley said he wasn’t in favor of the sports betting bill because he didn’t see anything in it to support. He added he wouldn’t have supported the “I-lottery” (or Internet lottery).
“Being able to play tickets on one’s phone at home, every two minutes or 29 times per hour at $2 a pop, is not in the best interest of those who have addictive personalities,” Sen. Haley remarked. “I would not have supported the ‘I-lottery.’”
Taylor said the Senate bill would allow sports betting at the casinos and also on apps on phones, through a program run by the state-owned casinos. The bill originated from the casinos, he added.
He said the Kansas Lottery has wanted to do online ticket sales, where residents could buy tickets from their computers and smart phones. The lottery’s position was that this bill was too restrictive and would not allow them to launch the “I-lottery.” At their Lottery Commission meetings in the past, lottery officials have stated that they would work with any bill that the Legislature passes.
“The House has an entirely different bill,” Taylor said. The House bill tends more toward the Kansas Lottery side, allowing them to do the “I-lottery” and also allow them to do sports betting everywhere a lottery ticket is sold. That would include convenience stores, some of which may be backing the House bill.
The House bill is still in the Federal and State committee, he added, which will be holding hearings later.
No local government share in Senate sports betting bill
Taylor said the Senate sports betting bill did not have a share of the gaming proceeds for local governments. That is a position the UG favored. The UG receives 3 percent of the net gaming revenues from the state-owned casino here currently, and the UG took the position it should receive a share of the sports betting revenues here as well, he said. However, there was some opposition to it, he added.
The amount of revenues the government could receive from sports betting is not estimated to be a great amount. It’s thought there is an illegal black market and offshore betting going on, and there might be perhaps as much as a potential $30 million in sports betting in Kansas, Taylor said. The state could make perhaps $2 million to $5 million with a tax on it, he added.
The UG can still ask the House to include a provision in the sports betting bill for local governments to have a share, according to Taylor.
Another idea, to allow sports betting at the arena where the game is being played, also was not part of the Senate bill that was passed. Sporting Kansas City owners had been interested in in-game betting at Children’s Mercy Park in Kansas City, Kansas, with bets placed by fans sitting in the stands, Taylor said. That idea could be proposed in the House.
“Everybody wants to see sports betting, it’s just a matter of how you want to implement it,” Taylor said.