We’re less than two months away from the opening kickoff of the 2022 NFL regular season, and Kansas sports betting is still on track for an on-time launch.
Stephen Durrell, who serves as the executive director of the Kansas Lottery, is tasked with overseeing much of the logistics behind the Sunflower State’s sports betting rollout, alongside the Kansas Racing and Gaming Commission.
The passage of Kansas Senate Bill 84 this spring legalized mobile and retail sports betting in the state, allowing it to join the more than 30 states and District of Columbia that have similar measures in place nationally.
BetKansas.com recently chatted with Durrell to see how the Kansas Lottery is faring in its quest to get sports betting online in time for the NFL season and more.
Below is a transcript of that conversation, edited for brevity and clarity.
Sunflower State Sports Betting Revolution
BetKansas.com How has the rollout of sports betting in Kansas gone so far in your opinion?
Durrell: Well, I think that it's gone pretty well, actually. We’ve tried really hard to make sure that it's been an expedited process. Because, we know everybody has been so interested in getting [sports betting] rolling. But we always have made sure that we’re doing it the best and most efficient way we can do it.
When Senate Bill 84 passed, I think that they passed it not really understanding how much gray area they left in the bill that needed to sort of be filled in before we could even really get started on figuring out how to get [sports betting] implemented. So that was sort of the first heavy lift that we had to do and since then, it's gone — knock on wood — it’s gone alright.
And we still have some hurdles to get over before it becomes functional. But we're striving every day to get it done. And there are always hiccups in the process. But so far . . . I have no complaints.
BetKansas.com What is the Kansas Lottery’s role in the rollout of sports betting?
Durrell: Kansas is a unique sort of business environment for gaming. Just from the standpoint that our constitution requires that any sort of gaming or gambling of that nature that is not a tribal-style casino has to be owned and operated by the state.
So, the state, through the lottery, owns and operates gaming facilities here in the state that are managed by managers that we've hired to do that for us.
And it’s the same thing with sports wagering, so the state has to own and operate sports wagering in the state to the extent that it can.
So, if you think about the lottery, the state’s basically the owner-operator, that will make the decisions about the business practices of sports wagering in the state.
And the KRGC has done a great job of trying to regulate not only the casinos, which they do now, but now also then the sports wagering platforms which will run through the casinos.
So, the best way to think about it is the lottery is the business owner and the KRGC is the enforcement group.
BetKansas.com What level of excitement have you heard from operators and casinos about the prospect of Kansas sports betting?
Durrell: I think that there is an excitement to it. As you probably know, SB 84 allows each of the four casinos to operate with up to three platforms or operators essentially to offer sports wagering. And so we're kind of going through the process now figuring out which casino wants what operator and that's a bit of a challenge to figure out who wants to and that sort of thing.
But there's clearly an excitement about getting it done and getting them on board as fast as they can. And waiting to get started has been as frustrating for them as it is for us just because of the timeframe, but it sounds like they're all very excited and raring to go.
Filling in Gaps Left by the Legislature
BetKansas.com What’s been the biggest surprise for the Kansas Lottery regarding the rollout of sports betting in Kansas?
Durrell: I think that some of the biggest surprises have been trying to fill in some of the gray areas and sensibility of the legislation.
[SB 84] was a framework of what the legislature envisioned sports wagering to look like. But unlike with other gaming related bills, they really didn't drill down very far into what the particulars were that they wanted.
So, trying to work out with the KRGC and then the casinos, and then the platforms about whose job was what, that was probably the biggest surprise to start with. But, we've been doing gaming in the state from the casino software for the last decade or more. And so, knock on wood, we haven't had any real big surprises yet. And hopefully, we will continue not to.
BetKansas.com Are there any updates you can share about when sports betting will go live in the state?
Durrell: It’s one of those things where we're trying as hard as we can to get it up and running as quickly as we can. As I've told everybody that will listen, including our commission last week, it's not our intent to launch anything quickly just to launch it.
We want to make sure that [Kansas sports betting] is operational and as bug free as we can, because we don't want to launch something that is sticky in some way. And that doesn't allow our players to have the best opportunity or the most enjoyable experience that they can.
So, we're erring towards the side of caution and making sure that all our preparation is done to launch [sports betting] as successfully as we can.
We are further along now than we were last week in talking with our commission. If you remember, I think I told the commission last week that there are three steps before sports wagering can happen per SB 84, and those were that the lottery had to reach contract amendments with each of the casinos to cover what was required for sports wagering. The second version of that was that the KRGC had to approve all the backgrounds for interested parties that wanted to offer the platforms. And the third thing was that the lottery had to approve the agreements between the platforms and the casinos to make sure that they were in compliance with our agreements and state law, essentially.
So, we're working through that process. And we're further along with each one of those things as we go. There are also some rules and regulations that have to be put into place, certainly by the KRGC for the purpose of regulation to make sure that they are able to regulate the managers and the platforms effectively.
We will have some rules and regulations, too, but not nearly as many as the KRGC. But we're getting there. And, to give you an exact date at this point, I really can't. But you know, as soon as we do, [Kansans] are going to be certainly out there raring to go.
What Will Success Look Like
BetKansas.com What would you define as a successful launch for mobile and retail sports betting in Kansas?
Durrell: Well, I think that, as I said, anything that makes sure that it works. And is an enjoyable experience for our players. That it is as bug-free as possible. I know that obviously the platforms that our facility managers are choosing have a lot of experience in this area, certainly in other jurisdictions.
So, that's obviously a step up and trying to make sure that it is as bug free as possible. But I think, just that [sports betting platforms are] accessible and enjoyable for our players, and that it is secure — that I would view as having been a successful launch. And given all four of our facility managers the chance to get out there at the same time and offer their platforms to our players. That's our goal.
BetKansas.com How would you describe the market potential for Kansas sports betting, especially with Missouri failing to pass similar legislation this spring?
Durrell: Well, I think that's a really interesting question. I mean, during this year’s legislative session, there were numbers thrown around by all kinds of folks as to what the potential outcome for sports wagering could be from a monetary standpoint.
So, I won't go into those just because I don't think anybody has a concrete idea. I think that Iowa has had sports wagering in their state, and they're pretty comparable to us. And, you know, we compare ourselves to them a lot.
And I think that they've certainly done a good job of sort of bringing in folks that don't necessarily live in Iowa, to come over to Iowa, for entertainment purposes, and to have fun in the sports wagering arena. And I think that probably we'll get some of that, too.
I think we'll get folks from that'll come up from Oklahoma, that’ll come from western Missouri, that'll come south from Nebraska, just for the enjoyment of placing sports wagers in Kansas.
And how many of those folks are going to be interested in doing that? Well, I guess that remains to be seen. I think it’s a brand-new market, it's a brand new experience for a lot of people, and I and a lot of people are really excited by it. And we'll just have to wait and see where we end up.
BetKansas.com What’s your parting shot about the rollout of sports betting in Kansas for readers?
Durrell: I think I would just like everybody to probably understand how complicated implementing sports wagering in a jurisdiction is and making sure that everybody knows how much work goes into it.
We’re very unique here [in Kansas]. So, making sure that we're working in conjunction with our casino partners, and they then in conjunction with the platforms; everybody's trying to row in the same direction.
And we don't always agree on every single aspect of sports wagering every single time. But for the most part, it's been a very good experience overall working with our casino partners. And we look forward to continuing that in the future and making sure sports wagering is as enjoyable for people in our state as it appears to be for folks in other jurisdictions. So, we're really looking forward to it.