The Missouri Gaming Commission is ready to hit the ground running when it comes time for legal sports betting.
The only problem is, they’re still waiting on the Missouri legislature to give them the formal green light.
Missouri regulators ready for sports betting green light
Mike Leara, the chairman of the MGC and former state representative of the 96th District, provided insight into the current state of sports betting in Missouri during a recent conversation with Cameron Connor of Missourinet.
They’ll have to wait until sports betting is ratified in Jefferson City to officially delegate resources to the project, but the MGC has already begun researching how other states regulate the industry. Leara said:
“We are prepared, by virtue of our relationships with other states that have gaming operations and have approved sports betting in the past few years. We share back and forth ideas and concerns and thoughts. There’s open dialogue between us, especially in the licensing process.”
Leara noted that while regulators have already contributed significant efforts, plenty of work remains. For instance, the MGC will likely require additional employees to help manage the workload that sports betting could generate.
Sports betting could still see rejection
Leara expressed surprise that sports betting wasn’t legalized during the last legislative session.
He acknowledged, however, that state lawmakers could just as easily deny legal passage for sports betting because they will “do what they want.”
“We are ready to go, should it become [legal]. We anticipate that it will, at some point. But, then again, it may not.”
Daily fantasy sports v. sports betting
If the expansion of Daily Fantasy Sports is any indicator that sports betting will see its approval, then things appear to be headed in the right direction.
Contrary to traditional sports betting, Missouri DFS games are entirely legal. Participants compile a roster from available league players and can then use their team to take part in any number of daily competitions.
DFS gained Missouri legality in 2016. Since then, changes in the law’s language have actually made it easier and more affordable for operators to set up shop in Missouri. The MGC is responsible for regulating the industry and issuing licenses to potential operators who undergo rigorous investigations to ensure they are qualified to conduct fantasy sports betting in the state.
Sports betting consensus grows, disagreements remain
Despite attempts such as House Bill 2502 and 1666 by Rep. Dan Houx and Rep. Phil Christofanelli, respectively, the Missouri legislature came up just short in 2022’s legislative session. This came as an especially frustrating blow, as many expected sports betting to pass.
As Leara noted, Missouri lawmakers could certainly vote either way once again in the future. Support for the industry, however, has grown substantially since the 2018 decision by the Supreme Court in Murphy v. National Collegiate Athletic Association. That move effectively left the choice for legal sports betting in the hands of each state, striking down a 1992 law that banned most forms of sports betting in the U.S.
Proponents predict that 2023 could be the year Missouri finally ends up joining the majority of the nation that has already legalized some form of sports betting.
Several of the disagreements state lawmakers have with legislation are not inherently involved with sports betting itself. Rather, the way it’s taxed in relation to other forms of gambling is the chief concern. In a press release this past April, Sen. Denny Hoskins spoke of ensuring that sports betting taxes can produce a significant amount of funding for public education — much like the Missouri Lottery does — rather than providing too much one-sided benefit to casinos:
“The current tax rate on gambling in Missouri is 21%, was approved by voters at 21%, and provides a significant amount of funding for our public schools. I don’t see why sports wagering should be treated differently,” Hoskins said in a press release. “I look forward to working on this bill during floor debate to ensure that Missouri education and problem gambling treatment programs are the focus of this legislation, not just the bottom-line interests of the casinos.”
Introducing sports betting into Missouri could undoubtedly present new opportunities for tax revenue, but it’s a matter of getting legislators to find an agreeable rate.
Redistricting, which the state underwent earlier this year, could prove to be either another death blow or an advantage in sports betting’s journey to legality in Missouri. But only time — and the 2023 general assembly — will tell what the future holds.
Per the Missouri Constitution, the 2023 general assembly can last from Jan. 4 through May 30.
Houx introduced a bill this week for sports betting at an “extraordinary session” in Jefferson City. It’s unlikely the bill will be considered, as the session has a narrow focus that doesn’t seem to include sports betting.