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NFL season kicks off with a Chiefs win and, in Kansas, legal sports betting

Behind a black ribbon guiding the line, a man in jeans and a black t-shirt stands at a wood-paneled counter. Behind the counter are men in red shirts in front of TVs displaying odds on different games. Above them is a lit sign that says "Barstool Sportsbook."
Savannah Hawley
KCUR 89.3
Dozens came to the Barstool Sportsbook inside Hollywood Casino to place bets on the Chiefs' first game of the season. Many of those betting were from Missouri, where gambling on sports is still illegal.

Kansas legalized wagering on sports just in time for football season. At Hollywood Casino in Kansas City, Kansas, fans filled the sportsbook room eager to place bets.

Just days after sports betting officially opened in Kansas last week, dozens of people gathered at Hollywood Casino to watch the Chiefs in their first game of the season.

The mood was like any other sports bar – people sat at tables, eating wings and drinking beer – but there was one stark difference: people periodically got up from their seats and placed bets on the game.

Tanner Rome, manager of sports betting at the casino, said he and his team are working on heightening the experience for sports fans – like those coming to watch Chiefs games or races at the neighboring Kansas Speedway – to enjoy.

“We have a really nice lounge back here,” Rome said. “It's got 40-some TVs, lounge chairs, everything. In February when we go to the buffet (being built next door to the sports book room), it'll be a sports bar, so it'll be a whole crazy sports fans atmosphere.”

That atmosphere is one that John Robinson has been waiting for. Until it became legal in Kansas, Robinson went to Iowa to bet on games. He said being able to bet throughout the games makes them more exciting to watch. Now that he’s saving money on gas, he’s looking forward to spending his time at the casino watching and betting on the games.

“I just want to see what the atmosphere is to watch the Chiefs game here,” he said. “You can bet all during the game on, like, who scores first, how many yards [Patrick] Mahomes may throw, so you can do all that live.”

For many watching the games Sunday, the casino felt like an impromptu watch party with new friends included. Stephanie Fisher didn’t place bets herself, but came with her husband who did. She said the betting during the game has made it more interesting for her.

“We don't know anybody we're sitting with, but it's all been nice because everyone just kind of talks to each other,” she said. “We’ll be here a lot.”

A crowd of people sit and stand at high-top bar tables watching one of 45 TVs dotting the room. Many of the people are wearing red, or Chiefs jerseys.
Savannah Hawley
KCUR 89.3
Many gathered at the casino's sportsbook room to eat, drink and watch the game. Sportsbook Manager Tanner Rome said he and his team are adding a buffet and hope to give the betting room a sports bar feel.

The crowd to bet on the Chiefs’ season-opener formed long before the game actually started. The most common bets were on the point spread, which is based on the margin of victory; the money line, which adjusts payouts for picking winners based on how big a favorite (or underdog) the team is; and the over-under, a bet on the number of points both teams will score.

“Anything that can be a positive outcome, you can bet on,” Rome said. “So a lot of people are betting on Mahomes to have over his passing yards, or certain running backs to have under or over their rushing yards. You can do anything, it's a wide range.”

Hollywood Casino is one of four in the state offering in-person sports gambling. Conveniently located just across the state line, the casino will lure some of its clientele from Missouri where sports betting is still illegal.

Matt Nelson is one of those Missouri residents who drove a short distance to bet legally in Kansas.

“I've been gambling for 15 years and those have all been illegal,” Nelson said. “Like, the way that I gamble on the internet is technically illegal (in Missouri). So it's nice to get over here and start putting real money in. It doesn't feel like fake internet money anymore.”

For Nelson, being able to bet on the games is part of the entertainment. To celebrate his first bets of the NFL season, he and his friends came to the casino for a watch party. Nelson placed bets on almost every game on the 45 different high-definition TVs dotting the room.

“College football yesterday was a disaster, so we're hoping to rebound today,” Nelson said. “We got Mahomes to throw a couple touchdowns, [Travis] Kelce to run one in, I got a couple guys for first touchdown scorer.”

The Chiefs were a six-point favorite in their game versus the Arizona Cardinals. Nelson bet over the total of 53.5 points, and when the Chiefs won by a score of 44-21, he also went home a winner.

When news breaks, it can be easy to rely on officials and people in power to get information fast. As KCUR’s general assignment and breaking news reporter, I want to bring you the human faces of the day’s biggest stories. Whether it’s a local shop owner or a worker on the picket line, I want to give you the stories of the real people who are driving change in the Kansas City area. Email me at savannahhawley@kcur.org or follow me on Twitter @savannahhawley.
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