Professional teams take a stand
Missouri lawmakers can’t seem to get sports betting up and running in the state. Four of its professional sports teams are taking the offensive to get it done by pushing for a ballot initiative letting voters decide. Such a referendum would be their second choice of action.
However, Kansas City Royals coalition and St. Louis Blues, Cardinals, and Soccer Club mark a significant step away from pro teams’ history of opposing sports wagering. Already available in almost two dozen other states.
It’s also a first, according to Kenneth Whisenhunt, a University of Missouri sports law professor.
“You’ve never really seen this happen before,” he said, according to Gaming Today.
The teams themselves said, in a joint statement to the Post-Dispatch,
“Each of our organizations supports the legalization of sports wagering in Missouri as a way to increase engagement with our fans and provide a fun and exciting new way to enjoy sports and root for our teams. We also believe that sports wagering will generate a significant new source of tax revenue for Missouri.”
Attorney files, signatures wait
Last week, Jefferson City attorney Alixandra Cossette filed nine ballot proposals to legalize sports betting on behalf of the teams. Tax rates vary on the different proposals, and the proposals don’t specify fee structures at all, leaving the fee set to the Missouri Gaming Commission’s discretion.
For the proposal to progress on the ballot as a constitutional amendment, the state requires the initiative to gather signatures from 8% of Missouri voters in six of the state’s eight congressional districts.
However, signature collecting is on hold when public comments are welcome.
The teams themselves keep the ballot initiative idea on the bench, hoping that the legislature will pass sports betting, rendering the initiative unnecessary. However, more than 20 unpassed bills were filed over the past two years. Gaming Today attributes the stasis to,
“Competing interests of casino owners and the illegal slot machine industry.”
Sen. Denny Hoskins and R-Warrenburg
Pro-sports betting but is wary of a change to the state constitution coming about by ballot initiative rather than legislatively. His concerns include whether the former would preclude proper vetting on details like,
“Tax rates, application fees, and annual administrative fees.”
(Initial application fees in other states range from $2,000 [South Dakota] to $20 million [Illinois]. Previously considered legislation in Missouri included fees going up to $50,000).
State Republicans overall could prove a roadblock to the initiative or any ballot initiatives that would amend the state constitution, like legalizing marijuana and expanding Medicaid. The GOP says outside interest groups have too much input into significant policy changes that result from these initiatives.
That party has been criticized for attempting to legislate voter restrictions that some think would disenfranchise minority voters.
Is sports betting the road to better roads?
Per the National Conference of State Legislatures, tax revenue from legalized sports betting brought in almost $50 million in New Jersey last year. Although it’s unknown exactly how much money legal sports betting can generate for Missouri, an unpassed bill estimates its revenues at around $12 million from the spring.
While the sports-betting story plays out, Missouri fans can travel to nearby neighbors like Iowa and Illinois, already legal. Sure, that’s neighborly and all, but it also means tax revenues that might benefit schools and roads in Missouri go to those states and others instead.