Frustrated by legislative inaction regarding sports betting, Missouri's major sports franchises are taking their case directly to voters.
On Friday, a coalition that includes six major sports teams and is supported by major donations from two sports betting platforms announced an initiative campaign to include sports gambling on this year's ballot. St. Louis Cardinals President Bill DeWitt III said in a news release that efforts to persuade lawmakers to legalize sports betting have been futile.
Bills to legalize sports betting have repeatedly passed the Missouri House of Representatives over the past few years, only to fail in the Senate, DeWitt said.
“Therefore, we are not optimistic that this pattern will change in the next legislative session, so we are currently launching an initiative petition campaign for Missouri voters to put the 2024 sports betting legalization issue on the ballot.” “We are launching a campaign and will be collecting signatures to support this initiative petition, starting this week,” he said.
It's clear there's a demand for legal sports betting in Missouri, according to new data from GeoComply, a company that serves the industry to deter bets from illegal locations. The company identified more than 356,000 user accounts in the state and blocked 24.5 million betting attempts in 2023.
Missourians are also crossing the state line in droves to place their bets. GeoComply tracked 6,670 sportsbook usernames who were in Missouri before the bet was placed and then Kansas, and 5,673 sportsbook usernames who were in Missouri before the bet was placed and later in Illinois Did.
Pro-Tem Senate President Caleb Roden said at a news conference Thursday that he does not expect the initiative movement to galvanize action in the chamber. Supporters of video lottery games, a competing form of gambling, will not allow sports betting legislation to pass unless it includes legalizing the games. Sports betting supporters would not vote in favor of a bill that included video lottery games.
“I don’t think anything has changed this year one way or the other,” Rhoden said. “I don't know if it's going to make a big difference in this chamber. Both sides are pretty tight-knit.”
The proposed constitutional amendment would give each of the six sports franchises that play in arenas with a seating capacity of 11,500 or more a license to take bets on games, player performances, and other aspects of contests where the outcome is variable. You will be entitled to do so. Companies that operate Missouri's 13 casinos and two online platforms without a physical presence in the state are eligible for licenses.
Bets can be placed online or in person at a casino or sports venue.
The state would tax the proceeds and receive 10% of the net revenue, but fiscal reports estimate it could be zero, or up to $28.9 million a year. After setting aside $5 million for a gambling addiction fund, the remaining proceeds will be donated to public schools and higher education programs.
This campaign starts with a deposit of $500,000 in the bank. On Thursday, the campaign committee Winning for Missouri Education reported $250,000 in donations each from FanDuel and DraftKings, two of the largest online sports gambling platforms.
The sports teams participating in this effort are the St. Louis Cardinals, St. Louis Blues, St. Louis City SC, Kansas City Chiefs, Kansas City Royals, and Kansas City Currents.
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Missouri Gaming Association lobbyist Mike Winter said Missouri casino companies have not given up on the legislative path just yet. He said members of his organization were not involved in discussions about which of the 12 proposals submitted to the Secretary of State's office should move forward.
He said members should consider the proposal before committing.
The selected proposals appear to be designed to get the casino to agree. While some of the proposals submitted for review did not license casinos, the selected proposals would allow casinos to operate sports gambling platforms on their own or in partnership with online providers. It is permitted to do so.
To make the ballot, supporters must collect signatures from registered voters representing 5% of the 2020 gubernatorial vote in each of the six congressional districts by May 8. This means obtaining between 171,592 and 188,537 signatures, depending on which of the eight districts is chosen.
Since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a federal law banning sports betting nationwide in 2018, sports betting has been legalized in all states bordering Missouri except Oklahoma.
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Sports betting in Missouri promises to be a market with at least as much money available as is spent each year on lottery tickets and casinos. The Missouri Lottery has sold $1.8 billion in tickets in each of the past three years, and the casino earned $1.9 billion from players in its fiscal year that ended June 30.
Kansas recorded $1.85 billion in wagers in the first year sports betting was legalized.
In a news release announcing the campaign, organizers said they would regulate the state's black market and keep residents who travel to neighboring states to legally gamble at home.
“According to recent estimates, Missourians use offshore gaming websites to place approximately $2 billion in bets annually,” the release states, adding, “Other Missourians use offshore gaming websites to place bets. “They often drive to neighboring states.”