Politics & Government

If Kansas legalizes sports betting, NBA and MLB eager to have a say in how

The American Gaming Association says bettors were expected to plunk down $10 billion this year just on NCAA basketball brackets. Almost all of those bets would be placed illegally.
The American Gaming Association says bettors were expected to plunk down $10 billion this year just on NCAA basketball brackets. Almost all of those bets would be placed illegally. AP

Kansas lawmakers are considering whether to let you legally bet on sports by walking into a casino or using your phone.

The National Basketball Association and Major League Baseball both want a say in how it would happen.

House Bill 2792 would allow the Kansas Lottery to offer sports betting at state-owned casinos and on the internet. It is one of the latest of several bills that have been offered this year to legalize sports betting. A Senate committee held a hearing Wednesday on a similar bill.

The NBA supports legal sports betting. In a statement to lawmakers, the Kansas City Royals didn’t say whether the team and MLB support legal sports betting.

Both leagues want to have a hand in shaping legislation that would open Kansas to legal sports betting and give the leagues a cut of the action. The NBA and MLB each have four lobbyists in the state, according to lobbyist registration records.

The United States Supreme Court may issue a decision this spring that would overturn a federal ban on sports betting, which is illegal in all but a handful of states. That has betting supporters rushing to pass bills in numerous states that would authorize bets if the court weakens or eliminates the ban.

“Our conclusion is that the time has come for a different approach that gives sports fans a safe and legal way to wager on sporting events while protecting the integrity of the underlying competitions,” the NBA said in a statement to the Legislature.

The MLB, as well as the Royals, “are not advocating for the state to pass a sports betting legalization law,” Kevin Uhlich, senior vice president of business for the Royals, told lawmakers.

“But if the state does pass such a law, it must – first and foremost – guard our sport and our fans from the risks of corruption associated with sports betting,” Uhlich said.

The Kansas Lottery is generally in favor of the bill, said Keith Kocher, the Lottery’s director of program assurance and integrity. He added the organization is still working with supporters on some details.

The bill would allow people 21 and older to place bets. It would prohibit athletes, coaches, referees, team owners and employees of a sports league from betting on games held by that league.

Speaking about another bill similar to HB 2792, Uhlich told lawmakers it contains “extremely strong integrity protections” to help stave off potential manipulation. Stringent regulations should be a key requirement of any legislation considered, he said.

The bill also makes an effort to address to the leagues’ ability to restrict wagering on their own events, the NBA said. Certain kinds of bets are more susceptible to manipulation than others, such as whether a player will commit the first foul of the game, the league said.

Studies show sports wagers in Kansas could reach between $1 billion and $2 billion a year. Winning wagers would be paid 95 percent of the gross wagers, leaving 5 percent for administrative costs, fees and profit.

The sports leagues would receive a royalty of 0.25 percent of the total amount wagered.

Assuming Kansans place $1.5 billion in bets, the state could potentially take in about $70 million in revenue, according to the state budget office.

Kansas is not the only state trying to capture the sports betting dollars currently flowing to Nevada or into illegal gambling, said Rep. Jan Kessinger, R-Overland Park. More than a dozen states are considering or have passed sports betting bills, according to Legal Sports Report, which tracks legislation nationwide.

“It is not an expansion of gaming, rather the embracing and regulation of gaming methods currently being done either illegally or via other states,” said Kessinger, who introduced HB 2792.

Estimates suggest Americans potentially place upwards of $100 billion a year in illegal sports bets.

Several Kansas casinos oppose the bill, saying the sports leagues should not receive a cut of the wagers because they don’t contribute to the state’s economy. They also say any sports betting should be conducted on-site and not online to maximize the benefit to local communities and ensure bettors are of age.

Whitney Damron, a lobbyist for Hollywood Casino at Kansas Speedway, told lawmakers they can wait until next year to take action. Then they’ll know the outcome of the Supreme Court case and the Legislature can examine sports betting laws passed in other states.

An attorney for the Kansas Star Casino, Boot Hill Casino & Resort and the Kansas Crossing Casino also took issue with the 0.25 percent cut to the leagues.

“It appears to be an unwarranted giveaway to out-of-state major professional sports leagues and should be stricken from the bill,” Kevin Fowler said.

The House Federal and State Affairs Committee held a hearing on the bill this past week. Rep. John Barker, an Abilene Republican who chairs the committee, cautioned the bill will likely not advance out of the committee this year because lawmakers want to take time to study the issue.

“It is very early stages,” Barker said.

Still, that doesn’t mean the legislation is necessarily done for the year. Supporters could try to offer it as an amendment to other legislation during House debate.

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