Jefferson City legislator pitches his sports betting bill

Rep. Dave Griffith, R-Jefferson City, is seen in this Aug. 31, 2022, photo as he speaks during a Missouri House committee hearing. (Julie Smith/News Tribune photo)
Rep. Dave Griffith, R-Jefferson City, is seen in this Aug. 31, 2022, photo as he speaks during a Missouri House committee hearing. (Julie Smith/News Tribune photo)

Legislation a Jefferson City lawmaker proposed would more than double the proposed tax rate on sports wagering over previous bills. But, the revenue the taxes would bring in are needed for veterans, education and tourism, he argued.

Rep. Dave Griffith, a Jefferson City Republican, presented his sports wagering bill before the House Emerging Issues Committee on Wednesday. The bill has broad differences when compared to bills sponsored by Reps. Dan Houx, R-Warrensburg, and Phil Christofanelli, R-St. Charles, which the committee heard last week.

Griffith's bill would far exceed the licensing fees and the tax rate the other bills have proposed. It would also raise the per-person license fee on an excursion gambling boat from $2 to $3.56, a fee paid by casinos.

The funds from the $1.56 fee increase would go to the Gaming Commission Fund, while 50 cents would go to the "Steam Boat Legacy Fund" and the remaining $1.50 would be paid directly to the home dock city or county.

The Steam Boat Legacy Fund would provide taxes levied from gambling to the Steamboat Arabia Museum in Kansas City. Griffith said the museum was at risk of leaving the state once its rental term expires in 2026.

"This bill is a bill I've been working on since even before I was sworn in. I've been working on it with one of my constituents since 2018," Griffith said. "This bill is going to benefit education, the Missouri Veterans Commission, dock cities and Missourians as a whole."

Kansas passed a sports wagering bill in early summer last year, and the state had gambling up and running by September, Griffith said.

"We have constituents that are crossing the line into Illinois or Arkansas, and we need to provide that service for people," Griffith said.

House Bill 953, according to Griffith, would address three major concerns he's had: keeping the Steamboat Arabia Museum in Missouri, addressing a larger revenue shortage from gaming taxes, and adding another source of funding to the Missouri Veterans Commission.

Griffith's bill also carries a much higher tax rate on sports wagering at 21 percent, compared to the 10 percent tax proposed by other bills.

"Most of the bills in the House and Senate are looking at 10 percent. ... We felt that 21 percent was a fair and equal amount," Griffith said.

The bill drew criticism from Mike Winter, who testified on the behalf of the Missouri Gaming Association, stating that the high tax rate and increase in boarding fees was an unreasonable expectation for casinos. Winter testified in favor of the bills presented to the committee last week.

"I spoke to the sponsor and let him know my concerns," Winter said. "There are significant differences between this bill and the ones you heard last week, like the tax rate increase. Missouri is one of only three states that have an admission fee (to place a bet)."

Winter said admission fees would be charged every two hours during a sporting event, if the bill was passed. He expressed concerns that a large, per-bet tax would be cost-prohibitive for sports betting. Winter noted, however, that casinos would cover the fee for individuals.

Bob Priddy, who was against the sports wagering bills heard in the committee last week, testified for informational purposes about Griffith's bill.

"No change is going to be made in gambling laws that the gambling industry doesn't approve of first," he said. "This bill is the first bill in five years to be written in the standpoint of the best interest of the people of Missouri. ... You can send the gamblers' bill or the people's bill out for debate."

Winter also took issue with the fee increase on casinos going directly to the Steamboat Museum.

Griffith also clarified to Rep. David Tyson Smith, D-Columbia, that the bill had not yet outlined any parameters for wagering on college sports.

"We didn't really address that in this bill, we really only addressed professional sports in this bill ... There's a lot of moving parts to it but those can be addressed," Griffith said.

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