OUR OPINION: Missouri has skin in game

It's a pretty safe bet sports wagering will once again attract a lot of attention in the General Assembly this year.

Currently, there are six bills in the Legislature that could legalize sports wagering in the state. Three are in the Senate; three are in the House. A few of them are scheduled for debate today.

Past efforts to pass sports wagering have included appeals by celebrities and other representatives of Missouri's professional sports organizations, as well as sports fans, encouraging Missouri to get in the game.

But, any odds of Missouri legalizing sports wagering this year will hinge on the ability of legislators to produce bills that aren't burdened with other issues, such as changing regulations around video lottery terminals, or political infighting that derails either of the Capitol's chambers.

Those are the things that stole defeat from the jaws of victory in previous legislative sessions when it comes to sports wagering.

Just as certainly as the Kansas City Chiefs will be playing the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday in the Super Bowl, Missourians are engaged in sports wagering.

For many, they either simply cross the state line to wager in a neighboring state that is profiting off Missourians' gambling or the Missouri gambler is using illegal offshore sports betting websites.

Either way, the neighboring state or the offshore website wins, and Missouri loses.

Illinois passed a law permitting sports wagering in June 2019, and Kansas passed a similar law in 2022. According to Forbes, there are 36 states that have made laws providing for sports wagering since 2018.

In over half of the country, legal online sports betting platforms exist, and those platforms are generating revenue for local and state purposes.

Again, Missouri clearly has skin in the game.

"If it's going to be happening, we should have some control over who's doing it and how they're doing it," said Rep. Rudy Veit, R-Jefferson City.

Fellow Capital City legislator Rep. Dave Griffith agreed.

"When you've got constituents going across the border to place a bet, we're not serving them correctly," the Jefferson City Republican said. "We keep kicking the can, but we're going to have to find a way to make it happen."

Whether you look at sports wagering as a moral or business issue, the clear fact is that it does exist, and Missouri does itself no favors by failing to trying to regulate and set standards that offer consumer protections for gamblers, as well as provide some financial benefits to Missouri residents.

Now is the time for the Legislature to hone in on a clean sports wagering bill and push it through to passage. Failure to do it will merely hand Missouri money to neighboring states, and the topic will inevitably be brought up again in the next legislative session where the can will be kicked farther down the road.

You can bet on it.

-- News Tribune

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