Will Missouri Legalize Sports Betting In 2021? One Lawmaker Is Optimistic

Written By Derek Helling on January 7, 2021 - Last Updated on January 21, 2021

In 2020, the Missouri legislature saw several attempts at legalizing sports betting ultimately go nowhere.

With the 2021 session now underway, it looks like this year could bring a proliferation of sports betting bills again.

State legislators pre-filed four bills to expand legal gambling in the Show-Me State, keying on sports wagering. The only one to do so in the Missouri House, Rep. Wes Rogers, thinks 2021 could be the year a bill on the subject actually becomes law.

Details on the four existing Missouri sports betting bills

Rogers’ bill, HB 619, is among those part of the initial push this session. In the upper chamber of the Missouri legislature, three state senators pre-filed proposals of their own. Those include:

  • SB 18 from Sen. Denny Hoskins
  • SB 217 from Sen. Tony Luetkemeyer
  • SB 256 from Sen. Caleb Rowden

While there could be more bills on the way, it’s also possible that these lawmakers’ colleagues will treat at least one of the bills as a starting point and amend them instead. All four bills currently await initial committee assignments, so it’s very early in the process.

The four proposals are similar in many ways. For example, Hoskins’ and Rogers’ bills both assess a master license application fee of $25,000. A low tax rate for aggregate revenue is also a common feature of the proposals.

There are key points of differentiation, however. Rogers’ bill would not mandate the usage of official league data, while Luetkemeyer’s proposal would. Luetkemeyer’s bill would also institute a royalty of 0.75% payable to professional sports leagues and bar books from accepting prop bets on college sports.

While resolving those differences could take time, Rogers believes there is broad support for enacting a sports betting bill this year in Jefferson City. Because of the current economic climate, there may even be a sense of urgency.

Will Missouri legalize sports betting this year?

Rogers indicated that more of his colleagues support legalizing sports betting than oppose the idea.

“I think if we could vote on a standalone sports betting bill that it would pass pretty easily at this point,” Rogers said. “Illinois, Iowa, Tennessee and Arkansas have already done it. I talked to a state rep in Kansas recently who thinks they have a good chance of getting it done this year, too.”

However, the chances of a standalone sports betting bill coming to the floor in both chambers for a full vote on its own may not be good. It might be more feasible as part of a larger package of legislation.

Last year, one of the issues that stood in the way of such a bill coming to a vote was sports betting’s inclusion as part of a larger gambling expansion package. Lobbyists for video lottery terminal operators were successful in getting their issues tied to sports betting, and that effectively killed off the entire package.

Rogers thinks that VLT legalization will be an issue again in this term, but the result of that attachment could be very different than it was in 2020.

“My guess is that we will end up with an omnibus gambling bill that will include both VLT and sports gambling,” Rogers stated. “I am curious to see how much revenue scares impact how willing legislators are to hold their noses and vote in favor of VLTs.”

In that statement, Rogers points to the biggest difference about this year. It really doesn’t have much to do with the question of gambling expansion in and of itself.

COVID-19 pandemic could be the difference-maker

Last summer, the state cut $459 million from its budget due to diminished tax revenues. Because income tax payments and gambling tax revenues are down compared to initial projections, the state is still facing a deficit.

That leaves lawmakers looking for ways to avoid further cuts. Expanding gambling, especially in a way that creates new revenue off activity that’s already ongoing in the state, seems an easy path.

“I think any legislation that involves increasing the tax base will have a better chance of passing this year than it did last year,” Rogers commented. “Legislators are worried about the budget so any bill that could generate revenue will get particular interest.”

If Rogers is reading the rooms accurately, a budget bill later this session could include sports betting legalization as a way to recoup losses in tax revenue. There’s still some work to do, though.

Don’t get overly enthusiastic just yet, Missourians

Whether the casino industry in Missouri will use its power to further grease the wheels depends on what the legal framework looks like. As Rogers’ district in northern Kansas City has casinos, he has some insight into the role they might play.

“The casinos do a good job advocating for gaming interests and they will definitely be vocal about any gaming legislation we hear this year,” Rogers explained.

“I think they would definitely like to get sports gambling done, but my guess is if they had to choose between having both sports gambling and VLTs or just keeping things status quo, I think they would just keep the status quo for fear that revenue from sports gambling would not offset what they would stand to lose.”

While VLTs may become a serious point of contention again in 2021, Rogers believes that progress is ongoing on the other issues that have to get ironed out to present a sports betting proposal to the entire legislature.

“From what I’ve seen we are getting away from the ransom fee to the leagues,” Rogers elaborated. “The ransom fee definitely had a chance to be a dealbreaker. I think there is a chance we are still dealing with the official data mandates and the leagues accepting them in other states probably increases the chance we see something like that.”

2021 could be the year that sports betting legalization happens in the Show-Me State. If that happens soon, then it’s possible regulated sportsbooks could be open for business before the 2021-22 Kansas City Chiefs season begins. For now, it’s too early to call.

Photo by AP / David A. Lieb
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Derek Helling

Derek Helling is a lead writer for PlayUSA and the manager of BetHer. He is a 2013 graduate of the University of Iowa and covers the intersections of sports with business and the law.

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