TOPEKA, Kan. – Kansas legalized sports betting on Thursday, only to be sued almost immediately by a state-owned casino operator who may offer the new bet on an unrelated part of the law designed to revive a closed greyhound track for a long time in his region.
Democratic Governor Laura Kelly signed a bill that the Republican-controlled legislature passed with bipartisan support. State officials and others were unsure before his action when sports fans might actually start placing their bets.
The new law will allow state residents to use cellphone or computer apps to bet on sporting events and place bets at each of the four state-owned casinos or up to 50 other locations. chosen by each casino. Betting in fantasy sports leagues was already legal.
The lawsuit was filed by Kansas Star Casino in Shawnee County District Court in the state capital, Topeka. The casino sits about 15 miles south of Wichita and is operated by Las Vegas-based Boyd Gaming under a contract with the Kansas Lottery that runs through December 2026.
The casino argues that the state is violating its contract, which states that the lottery will not allow competition from similar facilities in the Wichita area. The dispute centers on a provision allowing new gaming devices at Wichita Greyhound Park. The dog park opened in 1989 – more than two decades before the casino – but had a financially difficult history and closed in 2007. The casino opened in 2011.
The devices in dispute are known as historic horse racing machines, and the new law allows 1,000 of them at the dog park. The devices replay clips of past horse races, with outcomes determining what a bettor wins, and the new law calls them machines for betting on races, not slots. But they look like slot machines, and Boyd argues the two types of devices are “indistinguishable,” so the state isn’t allowed to let the dog park have them.
“Boyd fulfilled his obligations, successfully operated the Kansas Star and invested hundreds of millions of dollars in the Kansas Star based on the state’s contractual promise,” the company said in a statement.
Boyd said he supports legalized sports betting in Kansas. The company is seeking to force the state to pay a contract-specified $25 million fine, plus interest, though the law says the dog park will reimburse Kansas if it gets its new gaming devices.
The defendants in the lawsuit are the state, the lottery and the Kansas Racing and Gaming Commission, which regulates state casinos.
Lottery executive director Stephen Durrell said he was unaware of the lawsuit and could not respond. The racing commission, the governor’s office and the company that owns Wichita Greyhound Park did not immediately return phone or email messages seeking comment.
But state Rep. John Barker, a Republican from Abilene who helped draft the final version of the law, said there was a difference of opinion on whether the racing machines of historic horses were slots and, “I guess we won’t know for sure” until Kansas. The Supreme Court decides.
“It’s a separate part of this bill, so I think maybe sports betting could go ahead,” he said.
Next, Barker noted that Boyd’s contract expires towards the end of 2026, and, “They have a few things to lose as well.”
Kelly’s signing of the sports betting legislation came four years after the United States Supreme Court in 2018 struck down a federal ban on sports betting in most states.
The new law directs the bulk of the state’s share of revenue from the new game — perhaps $5 million a year — to efforts to lure the Kansas City Chiefs from Missouri to Kansas.
Penn National Gaming plans to launch mobile sports betting and have a retail sportsbook at Hollywood Casino, which it operates for the lottery at Kansas Speedway in Kansas City, Kansas. Spokesman Jeff Morris said he hopes Kansas residents can start betting legally by the National Football League season.
“Our intention will be to kick off the first day that we’re able to do that in the state,” Morris said.
Twenty-nine have allowed commercial sports betting, while six others allow Native American tribes to provide it, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.