A Missouri House committee heard the first joint plan to legalize sports betting from casinos and sports teams.
Six professional sports teams, five casino companies and five sportsbook operators spoke in favor of the compromise language Tuesday. The House Special Committee on Public Policy heard identical bills introduced by Reps. Phil Christofanelli and Dan Houx.
Christofanelli, sponsor of House Bill 2556, called this compromise between many of the stakeholders in the sports betting arena a long time coming.
“I think many of you are aware of the fact that sports betting is occurring with impunity across the state of Missouri. It happens largely on unlicensed and unregulated apps. … [This bill] brings all the stakeholders to the table and provides an accountable and efficient system for allowing Missourians to place sports wagers. I think this is one of the most positive things we can do this legislative session.”
Houx, the sponsor of HB 2502, added that Missouri is one of only 18 states remaining without legal sports gambling. He cited American Gaming Association data that 31 million Americans bet on the Super Bowl, wagering $7.6 billion.
Sports teams bring gravitas to proceedings
The crux of the agreement is that casinos support the use of official league data and sports teams getting mobile sports betting licenses. In return, sports teams join casinos in pushing for a standalone sports betting bill without regulation of video lottery terminals.
Bill DeWitt III, president of the St. Louis Cardinals, spoke for a Missouri professional sports team coalition. The coalition also includes the Kansas City Chiefs, Kansas City Royals, St. Louis Blues, St. Louis City Soccer Club, and Kansas City Current.
“All the pro sports teams in Missouri support sports wagering 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, which are such ingrained members of our communities. We also know that sports wagering will generate a significant new source of tax revenue for Missouri, whereas now we currently just have illegal operators performing outside the bounds of regulation and of course not paying tax.”
Executives from each individual team also vocalized their support at the hearing.
DeWitt said it also was essential to the sports teams that casinos and sportsbook operators agreed not to advertise within 400 yards of professional sports facilities without team approval.
“The only thing that the sports district does is really give the team in an immediate small surrounding around its building the right to choose its partners from a marketing point of view,” DeWitt said. “It doesn’t geolocate or geofence anybody out of that zone from an operations standpoint. It just allows us, for example, to control the messaging as our fans come into our ballpark.”
Official league data debated
Three issues of contention came up during the hearing.
Boyd Gaming was the only one of the six casino companies not in support of the bill.
Ryan Soultz of Boyd Gaming explained the reason for its opposition was the requirement for sportsbooks to use official league data for in–play wagers.
He noted that only five states have legislatively mandated the use of official league data. Another two did so through rulemaking.
“If you want to really see what’s commercially reasonable, let the private market work,” Soultz said. “… From our vantage point, commercially reasonable is no mandate and let the market sort it out.”
Rep. Dottie Bailey, vice-chair of the committee, was receptive because of her free-market mentality.
However, Rep. Jason Chipman pushed back that Boyd partners with FanDuel, which already has agreements to use official league data in other states.
“Your whole industry outside of you is advocating for this, but you’re going to come in and complain about one little portion that you’re going to do anyway,” Chipman said. “I just don’t understand your opposition.”
A representative of five major sportsbook operators said the operators are fine with the official league data language.
Some lawmakers want more money for state
The proposal creates the possibility of 39 mobile sports betting apps in Missouri.
Each of the 13 casinos could have three skins, with a maximum of six per casino company. Sports teams get one mobile skin each and can have a sports betting lounge at their facilities.
That sets up a competitive marketplace that should maximize revenue. The bills include a 10% tax rate on adjusted gross sports gaming revenue.
Some lawmakers thought that was too low. Casinos currently pay 21% on other casino games.
Bailey wondered why Missouri sportsbooks wouldn’t pay the same 15% tax rate as those across the Illinois border. She brought up how casinos pay $2 for each patron who enters their facility. She suggested that casinos pay $2 each time someone comes on a sports betting app to place a bet.
“It’s got to be a bigger boon for the state,” Bailey said. “To make it something that would appeal to us, it’s got to be more than what we’re seeing.”
Lawmakers also questioned whether the $250,000 set aside for problem gambling programs is enough.
Participation plan for sports betting
The proposal limits sports betting to Missouri’s casinos and sports teams.
Rep. Scott Cupps, chair of the committee, said he thinks the bill needs to include language including future casino licensees.
He noted that the Osage Nation Indian tribe seeks to build a casino at the Lake of the Ozarks.
Another bill introduced this year would put a constitutional amendment in front of voters to allow a 14th Missouri casino along the Osage River. Current state law only allows casinos along the Missouri and Mississippi rivers.
Cupps also asked if the Missouri Gaming Association would be open to other entities, such as Bass Pro Shops, participating in sports betting.
Mike Winter, executive director of the Association, responded:
“I think the thing to keep in mind is that you want a regulated sports betting environment, and so it makes sense to do it through regulated casinos and through the gaming commission rather than bringing in unknown entities that have no experience in sports betting at all.”
What’s next for Missouri sports betting effort
This was the first hearing on sports betting in Missouri this year. The state has held hearings on the issue every year since even before the US Supreme Court overturned PASPA in 2018.
Each year, it has been combined with legislation to regulate video lottery terminals. That drew casino opposition that killed the bill.
DeWitt lamented this trend in explaining why the sports teams are working with casinos:
“We felt that by getting together with them and working on not just sports wagering but several related issues, and to have this legislation stand on its own with VLTs debated on a separate track, we have the best chance of getting something done this year.”
Sen. Denny Hoskins, who has pushed to combine the issues in the past, told PlayMissouri he is willing to run them separately.
Sens. Dan Hegeman and Tony Luetkemeyer introduced the proposal from sports teams and casinos in the Senate more than a month ago. However, their bills have not yet been assigned to the Appropriations Committee chaired by Hegeman.
Missouri’s legislative session runs to May 13.