Sports wagering gained the most traction yet in the current legislative session on Feb. 8 when the state’s House of Representatives Emerging Issues Committee held the first hearing on a pair of sports betting bills.
Reps. Dan Houx and Phil Christofanelli’s bills, HB 556 and HB 581, respectively, were both considered this past Thursday by the House committee. When asked about the differences between the two pieces of legislation by Rep. Bishop Davidson, Houx said they were “identical.”
Support from Democratic colleague indicates sports betting is a bipartisan issue
Both Republican representatives have filed numerous bills over the years in an attempt to legalize Missouri sports betting. All have failed. There’s optimism, however, that sports betting legalization will happen in this session of the Missouri General Assembly.
Rep. Ashley Aune, a Kansas City Democrat, expressed her support and appreciation for Houx and Christofanelli’s proposed legislation. She said the legalization of sports betting was a topic that her constituents frequently raised during her 2022 campaign. Aune said:
“I spent a lot of time last year speaking with folks in my district, and what I heard from, honestly, more people than I expected, was, why haven’t we passed sports gambling yet? Why can’t we do that in Missouri? My neighbors in Kansas can do it, our neighbors in Illinois can do it. We are literally surrounded by folks who can participate in this industry, and we cannot do it, and it’s a true point of frustration for folks.”
Aune was not alone in her support of sports wagering at the hearing.
Hearing met with overwhelming support for sports betting bills
Fourteen people representing groups or organizations testified in support of the two bills, while only two testified against.
Representatives from the state’s professional sports teams and the city of Kansas City, a fantasy sports operator and others testified their support for the measures as a whole as well as specific provisions in the bills.
Mike Winter of the Missouri Gaming Association, a trade group representing Missouri’s 13 casinos, praised what was in the bills.
“The bill is very good about putting a framework in place to be regulated for sports betting through the Missouri Gaming Commission . . . There are 36 states, plus the District of Columbia, that have adopted and passed sports betting. So, obviously, there’s a good history going on around the country of best practices, and we do think that these bills do have a lot of those things contained in them.”
Those opposed identify flaws in bills, not necessarily against sports betting
Those opposed to the legislation weren’t inherently against sports wagering. They thought that both HB 556 and HB 581, in their current form, failed to either address specific problems or were the “reverse of what they should be.”
Attorneys Jon Dalton and Steve Fehr testified together on behalf of professional sports league players associations. Dalton wanted the committee to think about players when considering the bills, saying:
“Quite honestly, chairman, we regret we are in the position that we are in because we certainly support sports wagering legislation, but we have several unique concerns or issues that impact the players.”
Fehr went into detail, saying the bills should have provisions that would prohibit bets on biometric data of athletes, address player safety as it relates to interactions with upset fans, and specifications about reporting suspicious incidents, among other things. Fehr said:
“I think there’s a good reason why you ought to listen to the players. That reason is that simply this industry you’re about to create and this new revenue stream you’re about to cause to start flowing is something that, frankly, is built on the backs of the players. Quite literally, the bets are about the performance of the players.”
Bob Priddy of Jefferson City said the bills were “confined primarily and always to what is good for the casinos,” and Missouri would be a “loser” and face larger and larger deficits in every year of sports betting. Priddy noted:
“Quick growth will come with sports wagering, but the state will recognize none of the profits.”
Emerging Issues Committee members did not vote on the bills. Another hearing on the bills has not been set.