The Missouri Emerging Issues Committee heard public comments concerning a third proposed sports betting bill on Wednesday.
This bill, proposed by Missouri Rep. Dave Griffith shares some similarities with the other two bills already considered; however, the bill also boasts some striking differences that some parties aren’t as happy with.
Emerging Issues Committee hears public comment on HB 953
Rep. Griffith originally began working on his version of a Missouri sports betting bill in 2018. Shortly after that, when he was elected into his position as a state representative, this bill saw its first filing.
Griffith says HB 953 ultimately looks to serve three purposes.
First, it will serve as an additional revenue source for the state. While the state’s other proposed bills would do likewise, his specific tax and casino admission increase proposals offer the most opportunity for the state.
Second, it would keep Missouri’s Arabia Steamboat Museum operating in the state. The steamboat is near and dear to Griffith, as he says it should be to all Missouri residents. The clock is ticking on the steamboat’s current agreement, making funding all the more crucial.
Third, the bill aims to provide additional, much-needed funding for the Missouri Veterans Commission.
Bill suggests charging casinos more per player
In order to accomplish its goals, the bill proposes increasing the riverboat boarding fee Missouri casinos must pay the state. According to this bill, the Missouri Gaming Commission and the Steamboat Legacy Museum would each receive .50 cents from every admission fee.
Griffith laid out the detail of his bill, noting that his adjustments would provide an extra $15.4 million in annual funding for the Missouri Veterans Commission.
Additionally, .06 cents of every fee would go to Missouri’s problem gambling fund — a fund that isn’t currently allotted any percentage.
Griffith wants 21% sports betting tax
One of the primary differences between Griffith’s proposals and the other bills is the tax rate. Whereas the other bills propose a 10% operator tax, this bill allots an entire 21% to the state — an amount he sees as “fair and equal.”
By increasing the sports betting tax from 10% to 21%, the state is set to make upwards of $16 million in revenue on over $76 million in wagers during the first year of launch.
By the time sports betting has been fully functional in the state for four years, Griffith says Missouri can expect to reap over $71 million in taxes from over $338 million in annual gross sportsbook revenue.
Sports betting could very well become a billion-dollar industry for Missouri, ultimately contributing over $200 million to the state’s education fund. Not only do Missouri education initiatives stand to benefit from the bill, but Missouri residents and the state itself also have much to gain.
In the event that sports betting does not pass, Griffith proposed Missouri compensate by adjusting its gross gaming revenue tax to 6%. He said he is willing to make further updates if the Committee requests it.
HB 953 draws inspiration from Kansas, Illinois
Griffith admittedly took inspiration from Illinois and Kansas, two states that had sports betting up and running within an especially expedient timeframe.
Kansas, for instance, had sports betting up and running in three months’ time after the bill went into effect in July 2022.
Moreover, Griffith said Kansas may very well be the biggest persuader for a legal Missouri market. Recent data from geolocation service GeoComply suggests that Missouri residents made more than 252,000 unsuccessful attempts to access sportsbooks during Super Bowl weekend. Those numbers could’ve amounted to over $25 million in wagers for Missouri sportsbooks — not to mention a generous $1 million or so for the state itself.
Instead, Missouri bettors head across the border to fund the fellow state coffers of Kansas and Illinois.
Gambling industry opposes Griffith’s bill
Mike Winter of the Missouri Gaming Association took the stand to testify in opposition to the bill.
The week prior, Winter testified in support of the Houx and Christofanelli sports betting bills the Committee heard. The differences between those two proposals and Griffith’s bill, however, are substantial.
Winter explained that the MGA’s issues with the bill primarily lay in the proposal that casino admission fees be increased to benefit the steamboat. Winter also noted an additional administrative fee that would also be used to fund the steamboat.
Missouri is one of only three states that charge an admission fee to riverboat casinos, with Louisiana and Illinois being the other two.
Casinos pay the state an admission fee for every two hours a player visits a casino.
Winter argued that this fee increase would not serve its intended purpose in the long run. Rather, it would ultimately be cost-prohibitive to the evolution of Missouri’s gaming industry.
Must bypass gaming industry in order to pass bill
To conclude Wednesday’s meeting, the Committee requested input from anyone willing to testify for informational purposes.
Longtime Kansas City journalist, Missouri State Historical Society executive committee member and steamboat proponent Bob Priddy approached the microphone.
Clearly perturbed by Winter’s remarks, he noted his intention to file a written rebuttal of the statements Winter made on behalf of the Missouri Gaming Association.
Priddy politely surmised that Missouri legislators would need to bypass the gaming industry in order to pass the bill.
Priddy, who worked alongside Griffith to formulate this bill over the years, cited 2019 admission fee research as reason enough for the fee adjustment. The fee has yet to be updated — something that typical annual inflation should justify on its own.
By making this allowance, he explained that the gambling industry was, in effect, demeaning the Missouri General Assembly. Priddy said emphatically:
“No change will be made in gambling laws that the gambling industry doesn’t approve of first.”
Priddy concluded, urging the Committee and everyone listening to “consider the people at home more important than the people in the hallways” when considering this bill.