If Kansas Rep. Brandon Woodard’s reading of the room is accurate, maybe Kansas gambling expansion will happen after all. Woodard recently attended the National Council of Legislators from Gaming States’ 2021 summer meeting in Chicago. Afterward, he spoke exclusively with PlayColorado about several matters in his state that borders Colorado to the east.
Among them are what he learned about the gaming industry at the meeting, how he looks to use that knowledge back in Topeka, and his take on the likelihood of Kansas finalizing some form of legal iGaming and/or sports betting. In short, Woodard is reservedly optimistic given his new insights.
Kansas gambling expansion: a short primer
Earlier this year, one of the two chambers of the Kansas legislature took significant action on the issue. In early March, the KS Senate voted 26-12 to approve a sports betting legalization bill. However, there were drastic differences between that bill and one worked up in a committee in Woodard’s body, the Kansas House of Representatives.
Among those disparities were provisions in the House bill that authorized all 1,200 of the Kansas Lottery retailers to receive sports betting licenses. By comparison, the Senate bill represented a much smaller expansion.
Ultimately, the full KS House voted down the Senate bill. No reconciliation happened before that term ended. The KS legislature will reconvene on Monday, Jan. 10, 2022, with all the same membership. When that happens, Woodard will be among those leading to charge to enact a gambling expansion law in the House.
Woodard’s new insights on iGaming
Woodard is the second-term KS representative for District 30, which is part of the Kansas City metro. He is the ranking minority member for the House Higher Education Budget Committee. In his previous term, he also sat on a committee addressing gaming.
Woodard was the only Kansas legislator to attend this week’s NCLGS meeting in Chicago. He says the newest information he gleaned was in regard to online casino and online lottery products.
“I think in Kansas we are looking at a very difficult budget reality next year, so we’re going to be looking at a lot of urgency around generating new revenue streams that don’t come from a tax increase,” Woodard stated. “I definitely knew there was money in iGaming but I didn’t realize there was so much revenue potential in that space.”
Despite the revenue possibilities, Woodard still has reservations about one Kansas gambling expansion bill that would simultaneously legalize a host of new gambling choices in KS.
“If you add in such a provision as iGaming, you’re looking at some people who otherwise might have supported the bill not supporting it,” Woodard added. “I always am one who prefers to break out pieces of legislation into individual votes. We too often spend time packaging bills and doing ‘gotcha’ votes. I think it’s probably most beneficial for both issues to handle them separately. If it takes packaging them to get it across the finish line, then I’m willing to do what it takes.”
As far as how Woodard sees the prospects for next year’s session, he shares the same reserved optimism. The path to success he sees is about each chamber of the legislature showing some flexibility.
Will early 2022 bring Kansas gambling expansion?
Woodard explains his position best.
“After being through this for three years, I don’t want to say, yeah, we’ll get it done because we’ve gotten very close each time,” Woodard said. “But if we can get one bill into a conference committee where the Senate and House are negotiating differences, I think we can do it. I believe what it’s going to require though is us passing a House bill that is not quite as expanded as our original bill was. The Senate has a very strong position. They are coming in with the overwhelming majority of members supporting their bill. I would like to see some changes but I think that’s going to take the House making some concessions before we even go to a conference committee to iron out the discrepancies.”
When voters determined the fate of Colorado legal sports betting, the vote split drastically between urban and rural lines. Residents of CO’s bigger cities approved the measure by a much larger margin. The vast majority of Kansas’ population lives near its eastern border. Woodard doesn’t believe this issue shakes out the same in his state, though.
“The issue with getting this across the finish line isn’t Democrat vs. Republican or even rural vs. urban,” Woodard explained. “It’s House vs. Senate. Kansas already has focused its efforts on internal casino districts to make sure opportunities in gaming are spread across the state. iLottery and sports betting would probably be administered the same way. The Senate bill allowed each of the casino districts to create their own mobile platform. We spread our casinos throughout the state.”
What priorities does Woodard have in terms of a sports betting bill in the next term? The issues there are the same as they were in Colorado before its legalization occurred.
Minority participation, sports team licensing, and price controls
Earlier this year, Maryland enacted a sports betting law that contained very strong devices to ensure participation for minority-owned, small, and women-owned businesses. Woodard would like to see the same in his state.
“We have a new committee after the 2020 election and folks have been very focused on this,” Woodard elaborated. “Sports wagering kind of picked up where it left off. However, when it came to medical marijuana there was a provision included that a percentage of licensees had to be from underrepresented backgrounds, minority-owned businesses, small businesses.”
To be clear, the Kansas City Chiefs and Kansas City Royals play their home games in Missouri. However, the stadiums for MLS side Sporting KC and KC NWSL are on Woodard’s side of that state line. Woodard would like to see those clubs have a path to take part.
“It wouldn’t be a deal-breaker for me if it took excluding them,” Woodard stated. “I want sports wagering to be legal in Kansas. I think there would be no harm in allowing them to have their own mobile skin with their branding or allowing fans to place bets at the stadiums. It would be yet another revenue-producing area.”
On the related issue of official league data mandates, Woodard supports the general concept. He is wary when he sees providers hiking their prices for access, however.
“I think if we’re going to move forward and require that, there has to be some regulation around what sort of prices can be set,” Woodard commented. “They have to be regulated to make sure you aren’t pricing people out of it, especially if you’re looking at how do we allow a small business to get into this area.”
Finally but perhaps most importantly, Woodard is earnest about providing robust consumer protections around responsible gaming in any legislation.
Expanding responsible gaming in Kansas
Woodard echoed conversations he has had with his constituents regarding expanding gambling in the state in a responsible way.
“My experience in talking with the residents in my district is that social conservatives and progressive Democrats are the most opposed to expansion,” Woodard expounded. “They see it through different lenses but as predatory or sinful. We have got to do what we can to make sure people understand that not only are we looking at putting expanded gaming into place but we are also doing it responsibly.
“We’re requiring ID verification. Licensees are going to make sure people aren’t on the self-exclusion list. We’re going to have conversations about what is allowed with wagering. For instance, we have new lottery vending machines in the state and people can use credit cards to buy keno and lottery tickets. Should we be doing that or should we regulate it to where it has to be something that is cash? We don’t want people taking on debt to gamble.
“I think we can bring some folks on board with how we are ensuring that irregular betting patterns on a mobile app or at a gaming terminal are getting flagged and we are interacting with those people. We know problem gambling is an issue. We can bring some people on board simply by addressing their concerns.”
Kansas gambling expansion in early 2022 might still seem like anything but a safe bet. However, with Woodard working to spread new information on the topic, the odds look a bit shorter.