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State’s biggest sports teams rooting for wagering bills

by Ella McCarthy | February 26, 2022 at 4:00 a.m.

Two bills that would legalize sports wagering in the state were met with overwhelming support from the largest professional sports teams in Missouri.

House Bill 2502, sponsored by Rep. Dan Houx, R-Warrensburg, and House Bill 2556, sponsored by Rep. Phil Christofanelli, R-St. Peters, would legalize the popular kind of gambling in the state and additionally outline the steps of certification and taxation.

"I think many of you know and 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," Christofanelli said at a public hearing discussing the bills. "There are over 30 states ... that have legalized sports betting and allowed a framework for consumer protection and an avenue for revenue generation for the state of Missouri to address our critical needs, like education."

Top advocates from the St. Louis Cardinals, Kansas City Chiefs, Kansas City Royals Baseball Club, the National Hockey League Players association and more, shared their support for the legalization of sports wagering in the state at a public hearing discussing the legislation this week.

"First and foremost, 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," William Dewitt III, president of the St. Louis Cardinals, said at the hearing. "As Rep. Christofanelli said, we currently just have illegal operators performing outside the bounds of regulation and of course, not paying tax."

The two bills state that from the revenue collected from a 10 percent wagering tax, the first $250,000 would be allocated through the Missouri Gaming Commission to support the state's problem gambling programs, and any additional revenue would be deposited into the "Gaming Proceeds for Education Fund."

The fiscal note attached to HB 2556, estimates around $97 million would be generated for the education fund per fiscal year.

"In spring of 2018, the Supreme Court overturned PASPA, which is the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, which opened the door for any state to legalize sports wagering if it wanted to," Dewitt said. "During those four ensuing years, 32 states have legalized some form of sports wagering and more to come."

Sports wagering is currently legal in Illinois, Arkansas, Tennessee, Iowa and Nebraska, and other states including Kansas are likely to approve sports wagering this year, he added.

"Typically, what's happened in the Legislature here is that sports wager legislation has been combined with VLT legislation, which is video lottery terminals" or slot machines, Dewitt said. "Our friends at the casinos feel very strongly that any form of VLT expansion would harm their business, and they and others have worked to kill those combined bills in previous sessions.

"To have this legislation stand on its own, with VLTs debated on a separate track, we feel that we have the best chance of getting something done this year," he added.

While presenting the legislation, Houx noted both bills, which are the same, were created through a coalition of the major sports teams and five of the six casinos.

HB 2556 currently states that to offer sports wagering, a licensed applicant must submit an application in the form and manner prescribed by the Missouri Gaming Commission and pay an initial application fee of $50,000 that will be deposited into the Gaming Commission Fund. Additional requirements and rules are outlined for different kinds of gaming facilities and providers.

Witness testimonies from the National Steamboat Museum, J&J Ventures of Missouri LLC, Missouri Coalition for Video Lottery, Boyd Gaming Corporation-Ameristar Casino, were in opposition of the legislation.

Some House members on the committee also express concerns over what is constituted as a sport under the current bill text, and how betting in different leagues will be regulated.

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