Could A Future Downtown Royals Stadium Include A Sportsbook?

Written By Derek Helling on November 17, 2022
missouri kansas city royals stadium subsidies

History shows that synergistically timed events are rarely true coincidences. While a push for the expansion of legal gambling in Missouri and a campaign for a new Kansas City Royals stadium might not be joined at the hip, the timing is at least interesting.

That synergy presents the possibility of a new downtown Kansas City ballpark including a physical sportsbook at least in the immediate vicinity of, if not actually within the parameters of, such a stadium. However, there are potential obstacles to that prospect as well.

Owner seeks funding for Kansas City Royals stadium

On Tuesday, the MLB franchise’s principal owner – John Sherman – released an open letter making some outlandish claims with made-up numbers about the potential impact of a new venue that would include a park for the team to play its home games in. Neil deMause of Field of Schemes quickly and expertly exposed the fallaciousness of Sherman’s claims that public subsidies for such a development would do anything but pad his own net worth.

Sherman might still get a taxpayer handout and a sweetheart real estate deal from Kansas City, Missouri leaders. The pertinent question becomes what such a mixed-use development might encompass. There are the likely suspects such as residential spaces, restaurants, and retail.

If Kansas Citians want an idea of what Sherman would like to replicate, all they need do is drive across Missouri and visit St. Louis’ Ballpark Village. That district has become an asset for the owners of the St. Louis Cardinals toward the same end that Sherman and his partners likely seek; access to revenue streams that have absolutely nothing to do with how the MLB team performs in games.

While that’s all being brokered, separate conversations about gambling in Missouri are likely ongoing.

Pressure is on in Missouri to expand gambling

Currently, six of the eight states that border Missouri offer some form of legal sports betting (well, it isn’t yet available in Nebraska but technically legal so it counts). It’s been discussed in the past year in the legislatures of the two outliers as well, which are Kentucky and Oklahoma.

Additionally, five of those six states offer legal online sports betting right now. In this context, perhaps the most pertinent of those is the latest to come online, Kansas. Missouri and Kansas have a rivalry that dates back to before the American Civil War.

Discussions in legislative hearings in Jefferson City regarding gambling expansion earlier this year paid testimony to the fact that this rivalry still exists. Thus, Kansas getting its regulated sports betting system up and running could be the proverbial straw that broke Sluggerrr’s (the Royals’ mascot) back.

The leaders of both chambers of Missouri’s legislature have publicly stated they will prioritize legislation to legalize sports betting in 2023. Additionally, Missouri Gov. Mike Parson seems at least willing to go along with the legislature’s actions on the issue.

While 2023 could be the year that Missouri gets a sports betting law on its books, there are obvious ramifications for the Royals in that instance. For that reason, they’ve been active on the issue.

Royals have already rostered Missouri sports betting bill support

Earlier this year, the Royals were part of a coalition of casinos and other sports entertainment entities in Missouri that endorsed a couple of bills in the Missouri Senate. The framework of those bills gave the Royals a potential revenue source attached to legal Missouri sports betting.

Among the bills’ tenets was a provision that would have allowed the Royals to apply for an online-only sports betting license. The Royals also could have established a 400-yard exclusivity zone around Kauffman Stadium that would have prevented people within the zone from using a competing online sportsbook.

As opposed to operating the sportsbook themselves, the Royals likely would have contracted with an existing online sportsbook operator to do that for them. In exchange for the use of the license, the Royals probably would have received a fee and/or a share of any revenues.

Whether new bills that surface in the 2023 legislative session will resemble that framework is unclear right now. However, the Royals will definitely take great interest in any bills that do emerge along these lines. They could even account for it in their stadium plans.

Might the Royals actually pass on a physical sportsbook?

A potential issue is possible zoning issues with allowing a physical gambling establishment in downtown Kansas City. Such issues held up the construction of a retail DraftKings Sportsbook near Wrigley Field in Chicago, for example.

At the same time, if the city ends up forking over public dollars to billionaires so they don’t have to spend any of their own money to make themselves richer, there would probably be no hesitation to amend zoning codes to fit those billionaires’ desires. Potential obstacles would be more likely to come from Jefferson City.

It’s important to note that the bills the Royals supported this year did not allow for a physical sportsbook in that exclusivity zone. However, that is no indication that bills presented in 2023 won’t include such a provision.

There’s reason to believe they might not, though. During testimony, executives from several of the teams participating in the coalition touted the exclusivity zone as a tool they could use to control the amount of advertising for sportsbooks that are in the vicinities of their stadiums. The expressed concern was keeping the areas “family-friendly.”

However, it’s important to note the bills put no limits on the amount of advertising the Royals could have erected for their own sportsbook partner in that area. The zone would have ensured the Royals alone would have benefitted from such marketing.

The main point is that the Royals might not be interested in a physical sportsbook in or near the stadium as long as they can have an online license. If they can get both, though, they might go for that as well. The legislature will ultimately determine their options.

At this point, speculation about the details of legal Missouri sports betting and a new downtown Kansas City Royals stadium is purely that, speculative. Those issues could become linked at some juncture in the future, though.

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Derek Helling

Derek Helling is a lead writer for PlayUSA. Helling focuses on breaking news, including legislation and litigation in the gaming industry. He enjoys reading hundreds of pages of a gambling bill or lawsuit for his audience. Helling completed his journalism degree at the University of Iowa.

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