Missouri senators heard testimony Wednesday on the legalization of sports betting for the first time this session. Those supporting the plan included representatives of all six of Missouri’s professional sports teams, among them Bill DeWitt III, president of the St. Louis Cardinals, who reassured the team is in favor of the bill’s passing.
“One of the downsides of the delay of several years here is that fans haven’t been able to do it. However, one of the good sides is that we’ve learned from other states. We’ve learned how to tweak this to make it more reflective of the market that’s out there,” he said, as reported by St. Louis Public Radio.
Of two bills legalizing sports betting heard Wednesday, one of them addresses only sports wagering, while the other combines that language with other legislation authorizing video lottery terminals.
DeWitt stated his support for the wagering section of the bill, but that sports teams are “pretty agnostic” on the video gaming terminal language. “I think our position is that we’d like to see the two issues bifurcated,” he stated. “But in this one, they’re together, so that’s a political calculation.”
Sports betting would only be allowed in Missouri’s casinos or online for people physically located in the state. It also establishes districts where betting could occur online, in areas surrounding the stadiums where professional sports teams play their home games. Teams would have greater authority on mobile betting in these districts.
Senator Tony Luetkemeyer, the sponsor of the bill, said that legalizing sports betting “comes with natural challenges, so it is critical that we adopt a framework that provides strong regulations and oversight to protect consumers and also to benefit the state’s educational system.”
Missouri casinos are also in support of the bill, which imposes a 10% tax on sports bets. Revenue from that tax must go into the Gaming Proceeds for Education fund, and the Missouri General Assembly would also have to appropriate at least $500,000 annually from the Gaming Commission Fund to the Compulsive Gamblers Fund.
Of the eight states surrounding Missouri, Oklahoma and Kentucky are the only other jurisdictions that have not legalized the activity. A Missouri House committee is set to vote on its own set of sports betting bills on Thursday.
For its part, the bill introduced by Senator Denny Hoskins has similar language in the sports betting section, though his bill requires at least $5 million to be deposited annually into the Compulsive Gamblers Fund. However, this bill would also authorize the use of video lottery terminals in the state.
Gaming machines are currently all over the state in areas like truck stops, but are unregulated and illegal, although rarely enforced. Hoskins’ bill would allow for truck stops, veterans organizations and fraternal organizations to operate eight machines, while other businesses like restaurants and bars would be able to have five.
The legislation also places limits on bets, where the most someone could bet would be $5 per game. Only people 21 and older would be allowed to use the machines. Advocates for the gaming terminal portion of the bill included several business owners who said they could benefit from the additional revenue. However, that portion of the bill does not have the support of Missouri’s casinos.
“We need an even playing field. There is nothing in this bill that puts the VLT slot machines on an even playing field with the existing slot machines and reserved casinos,” Mike Winter with the Missouri Gaming Association said, as per the cited source.