Pro sports teams-backed campaign to legalize Missouri sports betting takes step forward

Efforts to bring legal sports betting to Missouri took a step forward on Tuesday after Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft signed off on the final ballot language for a campaign pitched by professional sports teams.

The next step for organizers is to choose one of eight versions to put before voters and then to begin collecting the necessary 170,000 signatures across the state to place a question on the ballot before a May deadline.

The latest attempt to bring legalized sports betting to Missouri is being led by a coalition of Missouri’s pro sports teams, including the St. Louis Cardinals baseball team, the St. Louis Blues hockey team, and the St. Louis City soccer club.

The St. Louis Top Dispatch cited Cardinals president Bill DeWitt III in its report, who said that the next step is to meet with the mobile gambling app industry to discuss which version to go forward with and then to draw a strategy for collecting signatures. “We’re going to do that here in the next week or two,” DeWitt said.

News agency AP, earlier in September had noted that the professional sports teams have been holding conversations about the Missouri ballot initiative with the Sports Betting Alliance, which consists of BetMGM, DraftKings, FanDuel, and Fanatics Sportsbook.

The teams are turning to the initiative petition process to go straight to voters instead of waiting for the Legislature to deliver a favorable result. However, DeWitt said that he would be happy if the House and Senate could come to an agreement this spring to avoid an expensive media campaign for the voter initiative.

I would be thrilled if we could get legislative action because then we wouldn’t have to do it,” DeWitt told the publication. “I’m hopeful, but I’m also being realistic.” Earlier in September, Mike Whittle, the Cardinals’ senior vice president and general counsel, told the news agency AP that gathering petition signatures and running an advertising campaign for a ballot measure can cost millions of dollars.

The coalition has filed eight proposed ballot questions, each with minor variations on a framework to levy a 10% tax on wagers, which could generate nearly $29 million for education. A $5 million problem gambling fund is also included in the plan.

The proposal would allow Missouri’s professional sports teams and the state’s 13 casinos to provide sports betting on-site as well as through online platforms, which could be used anywhere in the state. In some other versions, up to four internet sports betting companies would be allowed to operate directly from the state.

The development comes as legal sports betting expands across the US after the Supreme Court lifted in 2018 a ban that limited the practice to Nevada. Sports wagering has since been legalized in 38 states, according to the American Gaming Association. 

However, a recent poll of Missouri voters shows that legal sports betting in the state could witness some resistance. The St. Louis Top Dispatch cited a Remington Research Group survey on behalf of the Missouri Scout political newsletter.

As per the research, of 711 likely voters, 54% were in opposition to legalizing sports betting, compared with 26% in favor. Twenty percent said they were not sure. The margin of error is 3.8%.