Ah, March Madness!

That time of year when almost everybody in the office is — technically — breaking the law.

Betting on sports, like filling out NCAA brackets and throwing a little money into the office pool, is gambling. And sports gambling is not currently allowed in the state of Kansas.

State Rep. John Barker, R-Abilene, would like that to change.

The only place it was legal in the country was in Nevada, until New Jersey said that wasn’t fair and the U.S. Supreme Court agreed. The court ruling last year opened the way for states to legalize sports gambling, if they want to.

Barker wants to.

Last week he gathered a group of interested parties to go over page by page and line by line a 70-page proposed bill to legalize sports gambling in Kansas. The group included a half-dozen state legislators, Kansas Lottery officials and more than a dozen casino, business and sports league lobbyists.

Barker is chairman of the Federal and State Affairs Committee which makes this his bailiwick, he said.

Under the bill, the Kansas Lottery could operate a sports book with bets placed at 250 retailers throughout the state. The four state-sanctioned casinos in Dodge City, Pittsburg, Mulvane and Kansas City would take sports bets. Tribal casinos in Kansas could enter into contracts with the state for sports gambling. Defunct dog tracks authorized to operate as casinos could take bets, too, if those properties reopened as race tracks.

Other states are considering allowing sports books, Barker said, and he doesn’t want Kansas to be left out.

Right now, much of the big betting is done on the internet at off-shore accounts, he said.

“You might as well bring it back in where the state can monitor it,” he said. “At least get some money from it.”

The governor’s office and retailers selling Kansas Lottery tickets are in favor of the bill. The casino operators would like to see the state legalize it but otherwise stay out of the business.

The state would collect a 6.75 percent tax on sports wagering revenues retained after winners were paid, a levy matching the assessment in Las Vegas. The operators are fine with that.

The bill also called for the state to collect 50 percent of sports wagering revenue on electronic bets and 30 percent of revenue derived from in-person bets placed at casinos which are owned by the state of Kansas. The casino operators do not like that provision.

The money the state makes from sports betting would go various places, Barker said. At least $750,000 would go to the Kansas Attorney General’s Office, earmarked to fight white collar crime. Some would go to the state’s general fund to help the budget, Barker said.

He said he started fact-finding at the start of this legislative session in January.

“It’s a work in progress,” he said.

Barker would like to get the bill passed this year, with all the interested parties reaching a consensus. Next year may be more difficult because legislators might be reluctant to vote on a gambling bill in an election year, he said.

The Topeka Capital-Journal contributed to this story.

Contact Jean Bowers at reporter2@abilene-rc.com.

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