Missouri House Advances Sports Betting Bill With First-Round Vote

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03/21/2023
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Highlights

  • Missouri has been unable to agree on sports betting plans for years
  • The pro-sports betting crowd is backed by executives of Missouri’s professional sports teams
  • A Senator promised that sports betting bills will die until the issue of unregulated skill machines is resolved

The Missouri House granted initial approval to a legal sports betting bill Monday, marking a huge step after several periods of stagnation. 

The pro-sports betting crowd is supported by a coalition of owners and representatives of local professional sports tea, including the St. Louis Cardinals, Kansas City Chiefs, St. Louis Blues, and more. The group has been beating down lawmakers’ doors for more than a year but has been stymied at the crucial steps.

HB556 is receiving bipartisan support as lawmakers recognize that Missouri is missing out on many benefits that come from having a sports betting market, such as more tax income and less crime.

Overcoming stagnation

Lawmakers have been at each other’s necks for quite a while regarding a sports betting market. Six of Missouri’s neighboring states already have legal sports betting markets, and the other two, Oklahoma and Kentucky, are in the process of erecting a market. The latter had a bill receive resounding approval in the House last week.

Despite several of Missouri’s bordering states hearing proposals after it did, residents are still unable to visit online sportsbooks as lawmakers continue to drag their feet.

“I hear from people every day when I’m out and about ‘Why hasn’t Missouri done this yet?’ and quite frankly, we’re starting to look silly,” Rep. Phil Christofanelli, R-St. Peters, said. 

While progress in the House came swiftly this time, it also did last year—the issue recently has been the Senate, which has been unwilling to sign off on sports betting bills because of the issue of illegal gaming machines in rest stops, gas stations, bars and restaurants across the state.

There has been a recent turn in that matter, however. There are two lawsuits against Torch Electronics, which helps produce the illegal machines that have popped up across the state, one for cutting into profits and the other for violating consumer regulations and federal law. 

Another point of contention has been the tax rate. The bill approved by the House Monday called for a 10% tariff on net revenue. That is less than half of the 21% rate that casinos pay but would still create an estimated $20 million in annual funding. 

“I’ve talked to folks on both sides of the aisles who want it to be higher and folks on both sides of the aisle that want it to be lower, but to me, it’s about consistency,” Rep. Peter Merideth, D-St. Louis, said.

Rock meets a hard place

Missouri’s absent sports betting market has already had a noticeable impact, particularly due to the success of the Chiefs. In the past five seasons, they have made the AFC Championship Game every year, the Super Bowl three times, and been crowned world champions twice.

The draw of the powerhouse Chiefs has been enough to draw bettors across the border to states such as Kansas and Illinois or force locals to use unregulated offshore sportsbooks.

Geo-tracking company GeoComply found that during the 2022 NFL season, Missourians made 8.7 million attempts to place sports bets with online sportsbooks in other states. 46.3% of those attempts were made with sportsbooks in Kansas, and 39.4% with sportsbooks in Illinois.

“This is something that just seems so simple, and I would say that our constituents don’t understand why we haven’t gotten past the finish line,” Rep. Ashley Aune, D-St. Louis, said.

Despite the conviction of House members, it is unlikely that there will be progress until the issue of illegal gaming machines is resolved. Sen. Denny Hoskins, R-Warrensburg proclaimed that all sports betting legislation will fail until the fate of video lottery terminals (VLTs) is determined. Notably, he wants to regulate them and expand their availability.

HB556 would not allow betting on high school or college sports or proposition betting on college athletes. Professional teams would also be in full control of sportsbook advertisements inside their stadium. 

A second and decisive vote could come in the House this week. If the bill passes, it will be sent to the Senate.

Grant is a sports and sports betting journalist who prides himself in his up-to-the-minute reporting on the latest events in the industry. A member of Virginia Tech’s 2021 graduating class, he has quickly put together an impressive portfolio since moving to the professional world full-time. Grant’s favorite sports to cover are basketball and both types of football (American and soccer), and he is pushing written, audio, and video content. He has been employed by companies as highly regarded as Forbes and continues on a great trajectory in the industry. When he’s not on the clock, you can find Grant at the gym, looking for adventures, or hanging out with his family.