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Report: Ballot initiative may be best bet on sports wagering

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After many years of failed attempts, sports betting legalization looks promising in Missouri, but not by coming through the legislature.

The Winning for Missouri Education coalition announced a week ago that it has collected over 100,000 signatures through the initiative petition process, over half the votes needed toward putting the issue on the November ballot.

The coalition, along with the support of Missouri professional sports teams, such as the Kansas City Current, Chiefs and Royals, along with the St. Louis City SC, Cardinals and Blues, must turn in roughly 180,000 signatures to the Missouri secretary of state by May 5.

Legislative action continues as a House committee heard testimony from representatives of major league sports teams in January.

The Special Committee on Public Policy heard supporting and opposing opinions on House Bill 2331, which would allow sports teams, mobile operators and casinos to open betting parlors for sports gambling.

“Staggering numbers of people are crossing state lines to open online accounts, the lack of legalized sports betting is driving people to the illegal market, which is also exploding in Missouri,” St. Louis Cardinals President Bill DeWitt said.

DeWitt said if they can get legislative approval of the bill, Winning for Missouri Education would suspend the initiative petition.

Sean Ostrow, representing the Sports Betting Alliance, consisting of FanDuel, DraftKings, Fanatics and BetMGM, said roughly 350,000 Missourians tried to place legal bets, with half going to Kansas and 40% going to Illinois to place bets.

During the Super Bowl weekend alone, GeoComply data found that over 430,000 Missourians tried but failed to place bets in neighboring states, a 51% increase from the year before.

“Missourians want sports gambling; the numbers are there, and it’s clear that we need to make this legal so that Missourians can participate safely,” said Jack Cardetti, the spokesperson for Winning for Missouri Education.

If all of this sounds familiar, it should. Sports betting bills have died since 2018. That prompted the initiative petition to be started.

There was opposition at the public hearing. Bob Priddy, a former statehouse reporter turned lobbyist, said the proposed 10% tax rate is too low and would cause the state to lose its ability to regulate sports betting. Priddy says the Missouri Gaming Commission budget has declined 25% since fiscal year 2013 with 23 fewer employees.

“One of the employees told me he is working as hard as he can to just keep up with license applications,” Priddy said.

The money raised through the 10% tax on wagers is expected to be collected by the Department of Revenue, deposited into the state treasury and credited to the Gaming Proceeds for Education Fund, raising a projected $35 million.

If sports gambling is approved, the bill calls for $500,000 to be appropriated from the gaming commission fund and credited annually to the Compulsive Gamblers Fund.

The bill states that established programs will provide treatment, prevention, recovery and education services for compulsive gambling through the Compulsive Gamblers Fund, established by the Department of Mental Health.

The Missouri Gaming Commission, along with the Department of Mental Health, must also develop a triennial research report, which must be submitted to the governor, president pro tem of the Senate and speaker of the House of Representatives by the end of 2025.

If sports betting were to make it as a ballot initiative and be passed by a vote in November, there would be $5 million set aside for the Compulsive Gamblers Fund, Cardetti said.

Sen. Denny Hoskins, R-Warrensburg, said this amount still isn’t enough and that the fund would need at least $10 million to be effective.

Missouri has seen several attempts to try to legalize sports betting since 2018, when the U.S. Supreme Court lifted a ban that previously limited sports betting to Nevada. Sports betting most years since has made it past the House and has died in the Senate due to a lack of action.

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