Despite its legendary reputation as a gambling hotspot of the Old West, gambling in Kansas is today slightly limited at nine gaming houses and zero horse tracks currently open. This would appear to continue to be the situation for gambling in Kansas for some time to come, with a nice equilibrium of five Native American-run casinos alongside four casino resorts spread throughout four quadrants of the state.
While some moves to return horse racing (or even greyhound racing) have recently been made in the state legislature, changes to gambling law in Kansas will likely be quite some time in coming – if ever.
Population: 2.9 million (off. 2016 est.)
Area: 82,277 sq. mi.
Gambling Age (Casinos): 21
Gambling Age (Lottery): 18
Number of Casinos: 9
• Kansas was home to the first tornado ever ranked “EF5” in 2007; the tornoado was a whopping 26 miles long and two miles wide.
• The world’s first-ever Pizza Hut opened in Wichita in 1958.
• In Kansas, it is illegal to catch fish with one’s bare hands.
• In 1887, Susan Salter of Argonia was the first woman elected mayor in the U.S.
Naturally, the history of gambling in Kansas formally (if by no means legally) began in the land’s days as a territory ripe for settlement. Emblematic of gambling in Kansas in the Wild West days was Dodge City, a town first based around a military encampment which later benefitted from its station on the newly-built Santa Fe Railroad line.
In 1872, the first “bar” (really just a burlap tent with alcohol supplies) was established in the town – and the gamblers would come soon thereafter. Within 10 years, Dodge City was known throughout the ‘States for the vice, gunfighting and general Wild West-ness about the frontier town. In 1883, the town’s mayor was disturbed enough by the purveyors of alcohol, gambling and prostitution the he declared war on the largest and most notorious of ‘em all, the Long Branch Saloon.
Unfortunately, the Long Branch had a virtual all-star team of lawmen, including Dodge City sheriff Wyatt Earp and his deputy Bat Masterson. Nevertheless, the Long Branch’s owner left town and all vice-related activities were temporarily banned in 1883, but the mayor soon folded under pressure from the Santa Fe Railroad Company (!) and the state governor (!!!) to reopen the notorious joints in ’84. By the end of the 1880s, however, such establishments were no longer doing business in Dodge City or most anywhere in Kanasa due to a number of reasons, including expansion of the frontier and a new economic emphasis on the agriculture trade.
Lawmakers wasted no time in outlawing gambling, illegalizing all games of chance some 10 years before the “progressives” spread the word (and law) of prohibition on alcohol and gambling throughout the country.
Things in Kansas were quiet on the gambling law front until 1974, when charity-based games were finally legally permitted; in 1984, a state lottery was approved and implemented. After a referendum on allowing pari-mutuel betting on horse racing was approved by voters in ’86, the Kansas Racing Commission was established in ’87. The first tracks to take pari-mutuel wagers wouldn’t be running until ’89, however: That year both the Woodlands Park in Kansas City and the Wichita Greyhound Park opened.
While state legislators reached an agreement on a compact that would allow Native American tries to open casinos on reservation land in 1995 under auspices of the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA), the same year an appeal by Woodlands Park management to permit installation of slot machines at the track was rejected. A referendum which saw Kansas City voters overwhelmingly approve this installation in ‘96 was overruled by the state’s attorney general as unconstitutional.
In 2007, the state legislature passed the Kansas Expanded Lottery Act, a law upheld by the sate’s superme court in ’08. KELA allowed for the establishment of four casinos on non-reservation land in the state, one for each of Kansas’s “gaming zones.” Three of these four casinos opened in 2011 to ’13; the fourth, after much legal wrangling, opened in ‘17. However, since the bill did not provide for racetrack owners to provide slot machines and electronic gaming, the Woodlands shut down for good in ’08.
As of this writing, Kansas is home to nine casinos. The four operations provided for in KELA are still open: These include the Hollywood Casino at KS Speedway in Kansas City; the Kansas Star Casino in Mulvane; the Boot Hill Casino & Resort in Dodge City; and the latest addition, the Kansa Crossing Casino.
Native American-operated casinos in Kansas include the 7th Street Casino in Kansas City; the Casino White Cloud; the Golden Eagle Casino in Horton; the Prairie Bend Casino in Mayetta; and the Sac & Fox Casino in Powhattan.
In Kansas, the age for casino gambling is 21; for the state lottery and bingo-type gaming, it’s 18. Should the state ever reinstate horse- or dog racing and their concomitant pari-mutuel betting, the current legal age for betting at these tracks is 21.
It’s gotta be Bat Masterson, right? Not only was the man a deputy of tough Dodge City in his late 20s, he was also a part-owner of the town’s Lone Star Saloon, which he helped run while serving as county sheriff in his early 20s. Additionally, he’s the guy who summed up the frontier town’s attitude toward gambling in the 1870s and 80s nicely with, “Gambling was not only the principal and best-paying industry of the time, but it was also reckoned among the most respectable.”
In playing the sides of lawfulness and lawlessness against the middle, Masterson was not ony a consummate 19th-century gambler, but one heck of a symbol of the Old West in general.
The state gaming commission oversees the issuance of licenses for casino operations, as is fairly well standard in the U.S. Of note in Kansas State law is that local politicos have actually addressed the legality of online gambling. In 2009, then-Kansas attorney general Stephen Six oversaw a legal study which concluded that internet gambling was to be considered illegal in the state under current law. However, a 2013 bill which was explicitly illegalize internet gambling was defeated in the state senate.
So …. Online gambling remains in a legal gray area in Kansas.
With the legal/political battles over fourth state-licensed casino concluded, those pro-gambling interests in the state legislature got to work in 2016 on bills which would resurrect the state’s horse racing – and possibly its greyhound racing – facilities. Though Woodlands Park is now a horse-riding facility and dog racing has been made illegal in 40 states, some still believe that the racing industry can be saved.
Whether such legislation is simply tilting at windmills remains in question, particularly since the late-blooming Kansas horse- and dog racing industries were never very successful. With no changes to internet gambling law in Kansas nor erection of more casinos on Native American land in the near-future, the question of the tracks will be one to watch for gambling aficionados in Kansas.