As Major League Soccer side Sporting KC embarks on the 2020-21 season, the landscape for legalizing sports betting in Kansas has never been more favorable. The club has been one of the biggest proponents of that push as the only professional sports team in the state.
Sporting KC president Jake Reid is not only on board with a bill that the Kansas Senate recently approved but says his organization is ready to pounce on the opportunity to include it in fans’ gameday experiences. The question right now is how soon that opportunity will become a reality in the Jayhawk State.
Sporting KC is ready to act on the fruits of its efforts
Reid says Sporting KC has been working with a lobbyist on gambling expansion in Topeka for about three years now. The club not only approves of the language in SB 283 but is bullish about its possible implementation.
“Ultimately, I think it’s great,” Reid said. “I lived in England for two years and worked over there. I saw how it’s part of the game-day experience. It’s something people looked forward to. We’re very bullish on it. We’re going to roll it out. We feel excited about being the only team in Kansas who could do that right away.”
What Reid refers to is language in the bill that would allow venues like Children’s Mercy Park, where Sporting KC plays its home matches, to host gaming lounges. While these lounges would not feature betting kiosks or windows, they would bear branding for a casino or sportsbook partner.
Such a partner could present special odds and/or bonuses unique to customers accessing the sportsbook online from the location. There is already somewhat of a framework for such a lounge at Children’s Mercy through a long-standing partnership with Hollywood Casino.
Hollywood Casino lies mere feet away from Children’s Mercy Park. The club is featuring that partnership in a new way this season regardless of whether SB 283 becomes law by updating an entrance to the park. The Hollywood Casino East Gate will now be accessible to all fans.
Like the gate, Reid hopes that all fans of age will be able to take part in legal sports betting in Kansas. He is optimistic about the passage of SB 283.
Reid’s optimism and current attitudes in Topeka
Reid has cautious optimism about SB 283’s chances to clear the KS House and become law with Gov. Laura Kelly‘s signature. Although he described the bill’s chances in the House as a “coin flip” right now, he thinks there are positive signs.
“I think it’s good but my experience is you never know until it’s done,” Reid commented. “From reading the tea leaves, it seems positive. Everyone is saying the right things. We’re optimistic but we reserve enthusiasm until it gets done.”
Regarding Gov. Kelly’s position, Reid stresses the club hasn’t had any direct conversations with her office. There may be less reason for optimism there.
KS Rep. Don Hineman says that Gov. Kelly won’t support the Senate’s bill as currently composed. That’s because she feels the framework doesn’t produce enough tax revenue for the state.
Kelly’s office seems concerned with expanding the state’s lottery to include an online component. There are also concerns about the tax rate for sports betting in the Senate bill, which House members would like to see increased.
While it may not hold up sports betting legalization, the Senate may have to loosen restrictions on online lottery sales in SB 283 to ensure it survives to a concurrence with the House and gets Kelly’s signature.
Sporting KC has more to consider than just Kansas law, however. The club also has to contend with league rules governing gambling partnerships.
Rules for clubs in MLS are murky but evolving
For MLS clubs considering partnerships with gambling companies, the rules have been more like guidelines. At times, they have been confusing as well.
For example, the league issued a ruling last year that clubs could sell kit sponsorships to gambling companies. Earlier this year, MLS also allowed clubs to start selling sponsorships to companies outside of Canada and the United States, but restricted such partnerships to exclude gambling companies.
Where that can get murky is in regards to US sportsbook brands like FanDuel. While FanDuel operates in and is licensed by several US states, it is owned by UK-based Flutter.
So could Sporting KC partner with such a company or not? Even Reid is uncertain right now.
“It’s really tricky and I don’t have the right answer,” Reid stated. “You get into jurisdictions and the laws of countries along with the state that you’re operating in. I credit the league as pretty dialed-in to this. I understand it’s an opportunity. It isn’t a great answer but we’re figuring it out as we go. Everyone is just in kind of a let’s get it done and we’ll figure it out afterward which isn’t the greatest thing but it is what it is.”
Sporting KC is also in an interesting position geographically. Although Children’s Mercy Park is firmly on Kansas soil, the border with the state of Missouri is very close and much of its fan base resides on the other side of that border.
Because of that, Reid says he remains very cognizant of what’s happening in Missouri in this regard as well. Like in Kansas, the legalization of sports betting appears to have a tie-in with another gambling component.
What’s happening where a lot of Sporting KC fans live
Just as KS legislators have tied sports betting legalization to online lottery expansion, Missouri legislators are trying to use the same to get their colleagues on board with legalizing video lottery terminals. That issue is effectively putting a damper on any progress there.
If the MO government ever does finalize a sports betting law, Reid says the club is looking for ways to take advantage of that market as well. Partnerships with gambling companies in MO may come in addition to the current deal with Hollywood Casino.
There are several casinos on the MO side of the border. It’s also possible that national sportsbook brands could factor in.
“We’ve had a great, long-term partnership with Hollywood Casino well before all this kind of bubbled up,” Reid added. “It would make a lot of sense to expand upon that. Like with most of our partnerships, however, we don’t make anything an exclusive opportunity. We would have a discussion with them first just because they have been here the longest but you can talk with national companies and international companies. We’re not naive enough to think that if there’s someone who comes in from a national level and is interested, that we wouldn’t be open to those conversations.”
Reid’s foremost concern is a stadium-based component for his club
What’s most important to Reid, regardless of what brand the space bears or many other aesthetic qualities is the fan experience. Reid considers a physical component integral for that.
“For us, it needs to be in the stadium,” Reid elaborated. “If not, folks are going to stay home and that isn’t good for our experience. Our driver has always been, help us out. We want this to work for everybody so let’s make sure that in-stadium works. That includes mobile and some kind of kiosks. All that needs to be worked out still but ultimately we want fans to come in and be a part of it. We feel pretty good about where it’s at. You never know until it’s done, it’s still politics but it’s in a better place than it was last year.”
How quickly and ultimately whether the government in Topeka and the MLS league office in New York City finalize the landscape for Sporting KC’s partnership with legal gambling entities is largely out of Reid’s hands. Whenever that happens, the club will be ready to maximize the benefits of such deals.