A New York Times investigation into the gambling industry’s bare-knuckled lobbying efforts provides insight into concessions Kansas lawmakers provided when they legalized sports betting earlier this year.
Among the revelations from the report, published Sunday as part of a series on “a relentless nationwide campaign” to expand sports betting: Kansas lawmakers slashed an already generous tax rate from 20% to 10%, and exempted some bets from being taxed at all, before passing the sports gambling package after midnight in the final hours of the legislative session.
The final vote came two days after a lobbying event that promised “something for everyone.” There, the New York Times documented how Rep. John Barker, an Abilene Republican who helped orchestrate the sports gambling package, reveled in 30-year-old Irish whiskey while Sen. Jeff Pittman, a Leavenworth Democrat, secured an extra bag of pricey Honduras cigars. At the party, Pittman called it a “terrible” bill, but he voted in favor it anyway.
After the law took effect in September, Kansans wagered $350 million in the first two months — yielding just $271,000 in tax revenue.
Max Kautsch, president of the Kansas Coalition for Open Government, said the New York Times report “drives home the need for greater transparency in the legislative process.”
“Kansans should be disappointed to learn this holiday season that our leaders in Topeka are more interested in giving unprecedented tax breaks to the gambling industry than in meeting their fiduciary duties to be good stewards of public funds,” Kautsch said.
The sports gambling package exemplifies transparency concerns with the last-minute avalanche of bills the Legislature passes in the closing days of the session, often with unvetted policy provisions inserted under pressure from dark interests.
Kansas Reflector previously reported on this practice, which is designed to avoid public scrutiny.
“The fact is, we’re not making that much money. It looks terrible.”Sen. Jeff Pittman, a Leavenworth Democrat, about the bill legalizing sports gambling in Kansas, while securing an extra bag of pricey Honduras cigars from sports gambling lobbyist. Two days later, Pittman voted yes for the bill.
“Perhaps if Rep. Barker and his allies feared that their constituents would learn about these acts against the public interest in real time,” Kautsch said, “rather than months later as the result of a nationwide investigative report that chose to kick off an article totaling thousands upon thousands of words with an anecdote about whiskey and cigars in the Kansas Statehouse, they would think twice before leaving us with lumps of coal each legislative session.”