Editorials

Place your bets: Will Kansas, Missouri legalize sports gambling before next Super Bowl?

Supreme Court allows states to legalize sports betting in historic 6-3 decision

With a 6-3 vote, the Supreme Court ruled that legalizing sports betting should be left up to each state.
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With a 6-3 vote, the Supreme Court ruled that legalizing sports betting should be left up to each state.

The Chiefs aren’t in the Super Bowl. That’s OK. There’s always next year.

Hundreds of thousands of Kansas Citians will watch the game on Sunday anyway. And we’re pretty confident that at least some of those sports fans will have placed a wager or two on the outcome.

In most circumstances, those bets are illegal.

That should change before the next Super Bowl. Lawmakers in Kansas and Missouri should make sports gambling legal in both states before adjourning their 2019 legislative sessions.

The U.S. Supreme Court opened the door to state-based sports gambling last year, and several states have already enacted sports wagering schemes. Those states are now taking in millions of dollars generated by the activity.

Kansas and Missouri are still talking about it. Missouri lawmakers recently heard testimony on a sports gambling bill, and the Kansas House just named a subcommittee to discuss the issue.

Bills have been introduced in both states that would legalize sports gambling.

Those measures take different approaches to the issue. Lawmakers must decide if gambling will be restricted to in-person facilities, such as casinos and racetracks, or if gamblers can use the internet to place bets. If internet-based gambling is allowed, must players physically be in the state to wager?

Oversight and regulation are important. So are fees and tax rates. And where will the money raised be spent? Should sports leagues, including the National Football League and Major League Baseball, get a piece of the action?

Because the bills under discussion address these issues in different ways, estimates of potential revenue for the states are wildly imprecise. Missouri might take in $30 million a year, according to one study; Kansas could collect a bit more because the Kansas plan would allow gambling in more places.

Lawmakers will have to fill in the blanks in the weeks ahead. But carefully considered sports gambling laws in both Kansas and Missouri would provide substantial revenue for state programs for years to come.

Will gambling solve all the states’ budget problems? No. The needs are great in Missouri and Kansas, far more than an additional $40 million or $50 million would address.

And other states are enacting sports betting schemes, too. That reduces the potential revenue. In fact, the discussion surrounding sports gambling closely resembles the arguments about riverboat casinos in the 1990s: Once one or two states allowed casinos, others followed, and the promised flood of cash never materialized.

But sports gambling will provide some money to Topeka and Jefferson City. Since wagering on sports is going to happen anyway, lawmakers should take advantage of the Supreme Court’s ruling this year.

That means Kansas Citians could legally wager on next year’s Super Bowl without leaving their living rooms. The Chiefs, by the way, are our early favorite for the 2020 game.

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