Fans intrigued by the idea of wagering on the Wildcats and Jayhawks have a vested interest in an under-the-radar meeting of lobbyists, politicians and regulators with a stake in potentially legalizing sports betting in Kansas.
A half-dozen state legislators huddled with Kansas Lottery officials and more than a dozen casino, business and sports league lobbyists at the Capitol to pick through a new bill opening the door to sports gambling through casinos, racetracks and lottery retailers.
The 70-page bill inspired by Rep. John Barker, R-Abilene, represented a long-shot bid to move sports betting out of the shadows in Kansas. It requires moving legislation through the House and Senate — no easy task — to a governor who has endorsed the idea of Kansas joining other states in the new market.
Factions in the room disagreed on broad themes and small details while moving page-by-page through the bill.
"It's a starting point," said Barker, chairman of the House Federal and State Affairs Committee. "They're all negotiable. We'd like to have a bill we can build consensus on. However, if there is no bill, there is no bill."
Barker said neither House nor Senate committees with jurisdiction over gambling would move ahead with a bill absent special-interest compromise. He repeatedly urged lawyers and lobbyists in the room to seal a deal solid enough to withstand attempts by Republican and Democratic lawmakers to tinker.
He said there could be consequences for advocates of sports betting if the 2019 session slipped through their fingers because legislators would be loathe to vote on gambling bills during the 2020 election year.
Under the proposed bill, the Kansas Lottery could operate a sports book with bets placed at a maximum of 250 retailers throughout the state. The four state-sanctioned casinos in Dodge City, Pittsburg, Mulvane and Kansas City, Kan., would take sports bets. Defunct dog tracks authorized to operate as casinos could join in if those properties reopened as racing facilities. Tribal casinos in Kansas could enter into contracts with the state to engage in sports wagering.
Whitney Damron, who represents Hollywood Casino in Wyandotte County, said the Kansas Lottery as an agency of state government shouldn't be in the sports gambling business.
"We don't believe the Kansas Lottery ought to operate a sports book," Damron said.
That view was echoed by Kevin Fowler, an attorney speaking on behalf of Kansas Star, Boot Hill and Kansas Crossing casinos. He said it was difficult to contemplate a law casting the Kansas Lottery in the role of bookie.
Stephen Durrell, executive director of the Kansas Lottery, said retailers would be able to police a provision of the bill requiring sports gamblers to be at least 21 years old. He said retailers could check IDs of people making wagers at electronic ticket machines to be installed in retail businesses in June.
He said it was unlikely the state would allow retailers to engage in live sports betting, which would make it unnecessary for those employees to undergo background checks.
The proposed bill wouldn't deliver the 0.25 percent "integrity" fee sought by athletic leagues and associations for wagering on those respective sports, but debate continued about designating an official source of statistics for legalized sports gambling. Both ideas were opposed by casino operators.
The Kansas casinos appeared willing to accept a 6.75 percent tax on sports wagering revenues retained after winners were paid — a levy matching the assessment in Las Vegas. However, the bill called for the state to collect 50 percent of sports wagering revenue on electronic bets and 30 percent of revenue derived from in-person bets placed at casinos.
Under the bill, the Kansas Lottery would have authority to limit betting on certain sports events. A lobbyist with Sporting Kansas City, the professional team in Wyandotte County, said the franchise preferred the state ban play-by-play wagers during soccer games.
The legislation would set aside $750,000 annually in sports betting revenue to help the Kansas attorney general fight white-collar crime.
Debate on reforming Kansas law resulted from the 2018 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court striking down a federal prohibition on state-authorized sports betting.