Top Kansas House leader has ‘no interest, whatsoever’ in changing sports betting law

Katie Bernard/The Kansas City Star

The new Republican speaker of the Kansas House on Monday ruled out changing a controversial sports gambling fund dedicated to attracting the Chiefs or another professional sports team.

House Speaker-elect Dan Hawkins of Wichita said he has “no interest, whatsoever” in reopening a state law passed this spring that legalized sports betting after years of protracted negotiations and lobbying.

The new law places most revenue from sports betting collected by Kansas into a fund designed to act as a sweetener to lure teams into the state. But gambling revenues collected by the state have so far proven modest.

Hawkins comments come days after Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly told The Star she was speaking to stakeholders about reopening the provision of the bill that reserved revenues for the professional sports team fund.

“We actually are discussing that with all parties at this particular point,” Kelly told The Star. “You know, whenever you pass a bill like that, there will always be sort of unintended consequences.”

While Hawkins said he’s uninterested in the conversation, some lawmakers in both parties have indicated a willingness to reopen the law.

A spokesman for Senate President Ty Masterson, an Andover Republican, said in a statement last week the senate leader “hasn’t had any discussions yet regarding sports gaming but is open to them.”

Sen. Rob Olson, an Olathe Republican who championed the bill, told The Star last week that a redesign or elimination of the fund in the next year or two was likely.

A lack of willingness to discuss changes in the House, however, would prove a major barrier to any proposal. As speaker, Hawkins will hold significant power over what bills the House does and does not consider.

Legislators have said the last-minute inclusion of a fund, which receives 80% of revenue the state collects from sports betting, to attract teams to Kansas helped provide necessary votes. The provision also fueled speculation that Kansas would make a serious play to lure the Chiefs away from Arrowhead Stadium and across the state line though lawmakers and the Chiefs have since downplayed that possibility.

The state budget office has predicted the fund could accumulate $10 million by 2025.

Yet, despite more than $350 million of wagers in the first two months of legal betting, the state has only received just under $271,000 in revenue, according to a report from the Kansas Lottery. That puts the fund on pace, if the trend holds, to fall millions short of the 2025 estimate.

When The New York Times last month published an investigative series on legal sports gambling in the United States, the first story focused on Kansas — detailing the lobbying that went into passage of the bill.

The newspaper reported that Homefield LLC, which controls hundreds of acres where a potential future stadium could be located and whose owners include Sporting KC executives, had advocated for inclusion of the fund.