TOPEKA — The financial and political appeal of legalizing sports betting in Kansas is easier to grasp than intricacies of crafting a law capable of regulating an underground industry thriving in the shadows.
There's no denying people find sports betting a thrill — especially the winners. Cash-strapped states are ready to snatch up tax revenue voluntarily paid by folks wagering on sports. Figuring out how to peel away the shroud covering this part of the hidden economy is the challenge.
"It makes sense for the state to say, 'Let's regulate it now and tax it to bring in some additional revenue,'" said Rep. Tom Sawyer, a Wichita Democrat and the new House minority leader. "I do think it's something we ought to pursue."
House Speaker Ron Ryckman, R-Olathe, said House and Senate work on gambling legislation during the session opening Monday would be "complicated." He said there's a lengthy list of unanswered questions.
Will placement of bets be limited to casinos? Should wagering occur online? Will lottery retailers take bets? Sports bars?
What categories of bets will be allowed? How will Kansas tax it? Should professional sports leagues get a piece of the action? How much should be set aside to help gambling addicts? How to detect match fixing and money laundering?
The debate is result of a 2018 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court striking the federal prohibition on state-authorized sports betting. As many as 30 states may consider sports betting legislation in 2019.
Keith Miller, a law professor at Drake University and co-author of "The Law of Gambling and Regulated Gaming," said estimates of potential sports gambling revenue in Kansas exceeding $75 million yearly were inflated. Sports books were low-margin business for casinos and high taxes scare off gamblers, he said.
"A lot of people don't want to go to a casino to bet on sports," he said. "If the tax is too high, sports betting products are less attractive than the black market."
Bryan Seely, deputy general counsel for Major League Baseball, said mobile sports betting should be legal and bets on minor league teams should be banned. He said MLB should receive a 0.25 percent royalty.
"Allowing for 'integrity' or 'royalty' fees to be paid to professional sports leagues would set a bad state policy and will undercut the economic viability of legalized sports wagering," said Troy Stremming, who represents Hollywood Casino at Kansas Speedway.
Operators of Kansas' state-owned casinos in Dodge City, Pittsburg, Mulvane and Kansas City endorsed sports wagering if the regulatory framework included the Kansas Lottery.
"We've got to be real careful in terms of how we draft this bill. Obviously, we've got to have oversight," said Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka.
Senate President Susan Wagle, R-Wichita, said she wasn't opposed to legal sports wagering, but called it a second-tier issue.
"It's not a high priority. If the committee can find consensus, I'm willing to work the bill," she said.