Missouri House takes public testimony on Sports Gaming bills

A sports book clerk counts money at the Ocean Casino Resort in Atlantic City, N.J., Monday, Feb. 6, 2023. On Feb. 7, 2023, the gambling industry's national trade group, the American Gaming Association, predicted that over 50 million American adults will bet a total of $16 billion on this year's Super Bowl, including legal bets with sports books, illegal ones with bookies, and casual bets among friends or relatives. (AP Photo/Wayne Parry)
A sports book clerk counts money at the Ocean Casino Resort in Atlantic City, N.J., Monday, Feb. 6, 2023. On Feb. 7, 2023, the gambling industry's national trade group, the American Gaming Association, predicted that over 50 million American adults will bet a total of $16 billion on this year's Super Bowl, including legal bets with sports books, illegal ones with bookies, and casual bets among friends or relatives. (AP Photo/Wayne Parry)


The Missouri House Emerging Issues Committee held the first hearing on sports gaming of the 2023 legislative session Wednesday night, with both sides of the issue being represented.

While the majority of witnesses were in favor of the bill, many had testified in favor of a similar bill in 2022 that failed to make it through the Senate.

Reps. Dan Houx, R-Warrensburg, and Phil Christofanelli, R-St. Peters, presented their respective bills, House Bill 556 and House Bill 581, to the House Emerging Issues Committee. Houx and Christofanelli said their bills were identical.

"This is already happening in the state, we're missing out on taxpayer dollars," Houx said. "I sent it out to the committee during the Bengals-Chiefs game a couple of weeks ago. Just during the time frame of the game there were 4,751 (bets) that took place at Arrowhead (Stadium) during that game.

"That same day, Sunday, in Kansas alone there were 1.4 million bets placed ... and 80,000 people placing those bets, so we're missing out on taxpayer dollars here."

Rep. Ashley Aune, D-Kansas City, said her constituents have been requesting legal sports wagering for a long time.

"I'm gonna say what I said a few months ago which is that my constituents really want this," Aune said. "I spent a lot of time last year speaking with most of my district and I heard from honestly more people than I expected asking, 'Why haven't we passed sports gambling?'"

John Dalton, an attorney representing players' associations across multiple leagues, testified against the bill. Steve Fehr, who represents the NHL Players' Association, also testified against the bill.

"About the players' safety, we have concerns about interactions between disgruntled fans and players and their families," Fehr said, asking the committee to consider amendments outlining player safety. "We'd like a broad definition of prohibited conduct in the many forms that it can take: verbal, physical, coercion, etc. We'd also like a provision in there about reporting a suspicious incident."

Fehr warned the committee about the use of biometric data -- the measuring of players' physical characteristics -- in sports gaming, saying it would be a growing issue for athletes in the years to come.

"We think the players own that data, I don't think betting on biometric data should be allowed," Fehr said.

"I think there's a good reason you ought to start to listen to the players and the reason is simply the industry you are about to create ... is built on the backs of players, quite literally, the bets are based on the players' performance," Fehr added.

Fehr also urged the committee to add a stipulation to the bill that would defer decisions on these issues to collective bargaining agreements arranged between players' organizations and leagues.

"Quite honestly, chairman, we regret that we are in the position that we are because we certainly support sports wagering legislation, we have several unique concerns or issues," Dalton said.

Bob Priddy, a Jefferson City resident who testified against other sports wagering bills in 2022, also testified against this year's bill while supporting the idea of sports wagering.

"I am here not because I oppose sports wagering or not because I oppose casino gambling, but because I find that the bills that have been submitted to you are exactly the reverse of what they should be," Priddy said. "The gambling industry wants you to consider sports wagering as something special and unique that requires special treatment and this is nothing of the sort."

Priddy said the state would miss out on roughly $1.7 million from wagering organizations in the first year of the program, if implemented. Priddy testified the bills would be insufficient in regulating gaming companies and allowing for appropriate government oversight.

"We think the bills that are being presented are really reflective of the best practices that have been used in other jurisdictions that have passed legislation," said Mike Whittle, Senior Vice President and General Counsel of the St. Louis Cardinals.

Whittle said that the bill would allow for certain game-specific bets to be placed during a game based on different live metrics.

Mark Hanna, the president of Real Time Fantasy Sports, testified in favor of the bill, but requested an amendment that would add peer-to-peer wagering between fans.

"Right after the Super Bowl in 2008, Venmo servers went down because so many people were wagering against each other," Hanna said. "We basically want to be the Venmo for people and do it legally and be able to tax, to have the revenue come in to the state."

Lobbyists for the Kansas City Chiefs, Kansas City Royals, St. Louis Cardinals, St. Louis Blues and other Missouri franchises, like the new Kansas City Current women's soccer team, testified in favor of the bill. They cited the bills as a new way engage current fans and bring new fans to Missouri sports.

Mike Winter testified on the behalf of the Missouri Gaming Association, stating that other states have set a solid precedent for how sports betting could be implemented in Missouri.