Legal Gambling: Missouri vs. Kansas

When a state considers expanding its gambling options, it does not happen in a vacuum. The states surrounding it have a legitimate interest because of the potential flow of their citizens to new gambling locations. It is not surprising, then, that Kansas and Missouri are concerned with each other’s gambling laws.

Let’s take a closer look at where things stand with gambling in Kansas and Missouri. Read on to learn more about the history behind each state’s gambling activities, and for some insight into what might lie ahead when it comes to gambling in each state.

A Midwest rivalry

Conflicts between the Sunflower State and Show-Me State have a bit more to them than simple proximity. Sure, their college sports teams are archrivals, and in the pre-Civil War past the states even fought battles against each other. That said, lawmakers in each state have practical reasons for concerning themselves with what’s happening gambling-wise with their neighbor.

Case in point, Kansas recently legalized sports betting, while Missouri has yet to do so. Kansas legalizing sports betting potentially draws Missourians, thereby taking revenue away from MO and giving it to KS. But there could be other consequences, too.

For one, Kansas has already indicated an intention to use the newfound income stream to try to influence the Kansas City Chiefs, who play on the Missouri side of the border, to call Kansas home. The other sports team near the border, the Kansas City Royals, still has a decade remaining on its lease at Kauffman Stadium, but it’s likely that Kansas lawmakers have the team circled in their long term plans, too.

Meanwhile, any instance of gambling being legal on one side of the border and not the other can become a source of tension. Indeed, much of the history of gambling expansion in each state has involved Missouri and Kansas taking many of the same steps, albeit not always in unison.

Kansas vs. Missouri: The state of gambling in each state

Here is a snapshot of current legal gambling options in both states. As you can see, there are many instances where Missouri and Kansas are on the same page, but there are a few key differences.

CasinosYes, 13 commercial casinosYes, six tribal, four commercial
Sports BettingNoYes
Online CasinosNoNo
Online Sports BettingNoYes
Live Horse RacingLegal, but no tracksLegal, but no tracks
Off-track BettingNoLegal, but no OTBs
Online Horse BettingYes*Yes
Daily Fantasy SportsYesYes
Standalone Poker RoomsNoNo
Charitable GamingYesYes
Home PokerNoNo

*The legality of advance deposit wagering (ADW) on horse races via online sites is uncertain in MO. While the law disallowing OTBs appears applicable to such sites as well, at least one major ADW site, TwinSpires, accepts MO customers.

Historical comparison

Both Missouri and Kansas have rich histories that have involved various types of gambling, legal and otherwise.

19th century: Missouri riverboats and Kansas saloons

Tales of riverboat gambling on the Mississippi River during the 1800s abound, especially those by Missouri native Mark Twain. That legacy remains significant today, as the only legal commercial casinos in the state all began as riverboat casinos.

Whereas Missouri’s gambling history is largely on water, for Kansas the story takes place on land in saloons and gambling dens. The state figures prominently in frontier history as the home of Dodge City, where Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday, Bat Masterson and other famous individuals figure in several significant Old West stories.

Both the riverboats in Missouri and saloons in Kansas hosted various types of gambling, including faro, craps and other dice games, three-card monte, chuck-a-luck and poker games. Typically, there was no legal jurisdiction over any of the games, with the participants typically having to police the games themselves.

Late 20th century: Charitable games, lotteries, other legal gambling

Moving into the 20th century, Kansas prohibited all forms of gambling until 1974 when the state approved legislation to create a constitutional amendment to authorize charities to offer bingo. The Bingo Act went into effect the following year.

The situation was similar in Missouri, which essentially outlawed gambling until 1980 when the Missouri Authorization of Bingo at last allowed charitable organizations to operate bingo halls.

Both states would likewise approve state-run lotteries during the 1980s. Missouri was the first to do so by legalizing the Missouri lottery in 1985 and selling its first tickets early the following year. Kansas then followed suit when voters approved a lottery in 1986, with the first tickets going on sale in 1987. In both states, lottery revenue primarily helps fund education programs.

Both states also legalized betting on horse races during this period. Missouri made pari-mutuel wagering on horse races legal in 1984, while Kansas legalized betting on both horse and dog racing in 1987. In both states, such wagering remains legal, but neither state has any active tracks at present.

Casinos come to Missouri and Kansas

Both states expanded legal gambling significantly by legalizing casinos during the 1990s.

In Missouri, lawmakers nodded toward the past and allowed riverboat gambling to return in 1994. Riverboat casinos began to pop up on the Missouri and Mississippi rivers, and initially the casinos had to set sail on short cruises to qualify as acceptable gambling venues.

In 1998, voters approved officially doing away with that requirement and allowing so-called “boats in moats” that are essentially landlocked though in close proximity to water. Originally there was also a “loss limit” in place that kept guests from purchasing more than $500 worth of chips every two hours, but that, too, disappeared in 2008.

Today, 13 casinos operate in the state. All are commercial casinos, as there are no federally recognized Native American tribes in Missouri to operate tribal casinos.

By contrast, there are tribes in Kansas, and in 1996 the state settled compacts with them to operate casinos. The first opened that same year, and today there are six tribal casinos operating in the state.

In 2007, Kansas passed the Expanded Lottery Act, which authorized another four commercial casinos to open in the state. The last of these opened in 2017.

Kansas enjoys sports betting head start on Missouri

Of course, when it comes to gambling, the current focus in both Kansas and Missouri is on sports betting. As noted, Kansas has legalized the activity already, while Missouri has not.

Both states have already legalized daily fantasy sports, with Kansas doing so in 2015 and Missouri in 2016. Both also began discussing the possibility of legalizing sports betting after the US Supreme Court lifted the federal prohibition against states doing so in 2018.

While Missouri continues to debate the matter, Kansas legalized both retail and online sports betting in May 2022 when Gov. Laura Kelly signed a sports betting bill into law. The era of legal Kansas sports betting officially began July 1, 2022, with the first sportsbooks launching two months later on Sept. 1.

The situation in Missouri, meanwhile, is less optimistic. Efforts by Missouri lawmakers to pass sports betting legislation during the 2022 session failed, and the General Assembly adjourned in May 2022 without a law in place for wagering on sports.

There are indications that efforts will continue in Missouri, but even if legalization happens, it would take time before the state could draft regulations and issue licenses for sportsbooks to launch. That means Kansas will enjoy a head start on Missouri when it comes to legal sports betting.

However, the overall outlook for Missouri might be sunnier than it is for Kansas due to one simple reason: population. Missouri has roughly twice the population of Kansas. Missouri also has two concentrated population centers in Kansas City and St. Louis, though there is quite a bit of overlap in the Kansas City area. In addition, Missouri already has more gambling venues than Kansas, and it has better prospects for visitors to use the facilities thanks to their proximity to states like Illinois and Tennessee.

All of which suggests that even though Kansas may be in the lead on sports betting for now, Missouri has a chance to catch up and pass its neighbor should the state legalize sportsbooks.