Sports Betting in the Show-Me State?

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A general view of Arrowhead stadium in Kansas City, Missouri. Jamie Squire/Getty Images/AFP.

While 32 states have approved sports betting since the landmark PASPA ruling in 2018, Missouri has continued to vacillate but that could be coming to a close if the legislature cooperates.

Border Wars

If there is one common denominator in states’ decisions to legalize sports betting it is the argument that its residents are fleeing across state lines to place bets and ultimately line the pockets of its neighbors. Jealousy is a powerful emotion and we have seen it time and time again as the states that are slow to act in legalizing, and thus taxing, sports betting eventually can’t bear the thought of losing all those tax dollars next door.

And here we have our latest case of a state whose legislature has moved at a glacial pace in licensing sportsbook operators to do what they do best and pay Missouri what is projected to be $10 million annually to do so. The latest hurdle cleared was getting the Missouri House of Representatives to give preliminary approval on a plan to bring sports betting to the Show-Me State.

Representative Phil Christofanelli, a co-sponsor of the bill with Rep. Dan Houx, initially proposed a 6.75% tax rate for the sportsbook operators but that has been bumped to 8%, and perhaps as high as 10%, as the bill winds its way into a final vote in Missouri’s House.

“We’re increasingly seeing people in the state of Missouri who is leaving and going to those other states to place sportsbook bets, and that means we’re seeing money and tax revenue leave the state, money that would ordinarily go to schools,” said Christofanelli.

“Missouri is only one of 18 states that currently does not have sports gambling,” Houx said. “More importantly, of the eight states surrounding Missouri, five passed legislation and two – Kansas and Oklahoma – currently have legislation working through the legislative process.”

Pro Teams Moved the Needle

It’s no coincidence that when the state’s professional sports franchises began banging the drum for sports betting that the legislature suddenly took notice. The NFL’s local entry, the Kansas Chiefs, as well as the MLB’s St. Louis Cardinals and Kansas City Royals, along with the NHL’s St. Louis Blues were immediately the loudest voices in the room waiting to be heard.

All of these clubs either have existing sportsbook partnerships or potential pacts waiting to be signed and Bill DeWitt III, president of the Cardinals, said, “I believe it’s a fair compromise for all involved. First and foremost, all the pro sports teams in Missouri support sports wagering as a way to increase engagement with our fans and provide a fun, exciting, and new way to enjoy sports and root for our teams. We also know sports wagering will generate a significant source of tax revenue for Missouri.”

But the true test will come once the bill lands on the floor of the Senate where there has been a battle to eliminate illegal slot machines, commonplace along Missouri’s highways and byways with truck stops, gas stations, and barrooms as the most common locales.

But politically connected vendors continue to manufacture the machines and most of them are being distributed throughout Missouri without any fines or recriminations to those allowing them into their place of business.

The American Gaming Association has made their feelings known and, in a statement, said, “While regulated gaming machines undergo rigorous testing to ensure game integrity and fairness, there is no such oversight for these illegal or unregulated games. Nor do the machines comply with anti-money laundering or cybersecurity standards established by relevant governing bodies,” the comment said.

“Unfortunately, illegal and unregulated machines continue to skirt the law and put consumers at risk,” added AGA vice president Jessica Feil.

Disagreements on ancillary issues will have to be put aside if sports betting is to be approved before the gavel drops on Missouri’s legislative on May 20th.

Bookmakers Review will continue to monitor this story and provide our readers with any updates.