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All of Missouri’s pro sports teams want state lawmakers to legalize sports betting

 The Cardinals attracted roughly 46,000 fans for each of their playoff games against Philadelphia on Oct. 7 and 8, 2022.
Wayne Pratt
St. Louis Public Radio
The Cardinals attracted roughly 46,000 fans for each of their playoff games against Philadelphia on Oct. 7 and 8, 2022.

A Missouri Senate committee heard two bills on Wednesday that would legalize sports betting. Among those in support of the bills were representatives of all six of Missouri’s professional sports teams.

For the first time this session, Missouri senators heard testimony Wednesday on legislation that would legalize sports betting.

Among those in support of the bills were representatives of all six of Missouri’s professional sports teams.

Bill DeWitt III, president of the St. Louis Cardinals, said the team is in favor of legalizing sports betting and wants to get it done.

“One of the downsides of the delay of several years here is that fans haven't been able to do it,” DeWitt said. “However, one of the good sides is that we've learned from other states. We've learned how to tweak this to make it more reflective of the market that's out there.”

Of the two bills legalizing sports betting heard Wednesday, one of them addresses only sports betting, while the other combines that language with other legislation authorizing video lottery terminals called VLTs.

DeWitt said he supports the sports wagering section of the bill, but said sports teams are “pretty agnostic” on the video gaming terminal language.

“I think our position is that we'd like to see the two issues bifurcated. But in this one, they're together, so that's a political calculation,” DeWitt said.

Sports betting would only be allowed in Missouri’s casinos or online for people physically located in the state.

Additionally, the bill establishes districts, where betting could occur online, in areas surrounding the stadiums where professional sports teams play their home games, like Busch Stadium or the Enterprise Center. Sports teams would have greater authority on mobile betting in these districts.

“Legalized sports betting comes with natural challenges, so it is critical that we adopt a framework that provides strong regulations and oversight to protect consumers and also to benefit the state's educational system,” said the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Tony Luetkemeyer R-Parkville.

The bill imposes a 10% tax on sports bets. Revenue from that tax must go into the Gaming Proceeds for Education fund.

Under the bill, the Missouri General Assembly would also have to appropriate at least $500,000 annually from the Gaming Commission Fund to the Compulsive Gamblers Fund.

Missouri’s casinos are also largely in support of the bill. Mike Winter, with the Missouri Gaming Association, mentioned the recent Super Bowl win by the Kansas City Chiefs.

“We saw how many bets were attempted to be placed from the stadium during the final home game, that it shows you the interest [from] Missourians and those who attend sporting events and their desire to have the ability to place wagers on these activities,” Winter said.

Of the eight states surrounding Missouri, Oklahoma and Kentucky are the only other states that have not legalized sports betting.

A Missouri House Committee is set to vote on its own set of sports betting bills on Thursday.

Video lottery terminals

The bill introduced by Sen. Denny Hoskins, R-Warrensburg, has similar language in the sports-betting section, though his bill does require at least $5 million to be deposited annually into the Compulsive Gamblers Fund.

However, his bill would also authorize the use of video lottery terminals in the state.

“I've had bills that were just sportsbook only. I've had bills that were VLTs only. I've had bills that were just dealing with the gray gaming market, but nothing has made it across the finish line. It's time to get something done,” Hoskins said.

Currently, machines are all over the state in areas like truck stops but are unregulated and illegal, although rarely enforced.

Hoskins’ bill allows for veterans organizations, truck stops, fraternal organizations, as well businesses licensed to sell liquor by the drink to have the machines.

Truck stops, veterans organizations and fraternal organizations would be allowed to operate eight machines, while other businesses like restaurants and bars would be able to have five.

The legislation also places limits on bets, where the most someone could bet would be $5 per game. Only people 21 and older would be allowed to use the machines.

Advocates for the gaming terminal portion of the bill included several business owners who said they could benefit from the additional revenue.

However, that portion of the bill does not have the support of Missouri’s casinos.

“We need an even playing field. There is nothing in this bill that puts the VLT slot machines on an even playing field with the existing slot machines and reserved casinos.” Winter said.

Sen. Karla May, who presented her own bill authorizing video lottery terminals, spoke in support of Hoskins’ language, saying they would be a game changer for small businesses.

“We get big people who want sports betting. Well, we need VLTs, too, because we need small businesses to be able to compete with all of that,” May said.

Copyright 2023 St. Louis Public Radio. To see more, visit St. Louis Public Radio.

Sarah Kellogg is St. Louis Public Radio’s Statehouse and Politics Reporter, taking on the position in August 2021. Sarah is from the St. Louis area and even served as a newsroom intern for St. Louis Public Radio back in 2015.
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