House panel advances sports gambling with added player protections

The odds for sports gambling in Missouri are improving.

Two bills in the Missouri House advanced out of the Emerging Issues Committee at a Thursday morning hearing.

A House committee substitute was approved that would, among language changes, add more protections for players. This was an issue raised by lawyers for multiple players' associations during a hearing earlier this month.

The substitute was approved unanimously by the committee and will now be assigned to a House rules committee.

"There is urgency to get sports betting legalized this session," said Rep. Phil Christofanelli, R-St. Peters, a sponsor for one of the two approved bills. "We need to provide a legal and regulated framework for sports wagering that will help bring in millions in additional revenue to help fund our state's priorities. We are currently losing this revenue to neighboring states who have already taken action to provide a legal avenue for sports betting."

The other bill, sponsored by Rep. Dan Houx, R-Warrensburg, will be folded into the same substitute as Christofanelli's bill.

"About the players' safety, we have concerns about interactions between disgruntled fans and players and their families," Steve Fehr, a representative for the NHL Players' Association, said at a hearing in early February.

The bills had strong public support during a prior hearing.

"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, at a hearing for the bills in early February.

House Bills 556 (Houx) and 581 (Christofanelli) are just a few among many bills in the Missouri Legislature that seek to legalize sports wagering, which the state has tried and failed to adopt in previous legislative sessions.

Rep. Dave Griffith, R-Jefferson City, proposed his own sports gambling bill, which would provide an extra source of funding for the Missouri Veterans Commission and the Steam Boat Legacy Fund, a fund to keep the Steamboat Arabia Museum in Missouri. The bill would tax sports wagering at 21 percent, more than double the rate proposed by Houx and Christofanelli.

Griffith's bill, House Bill 953, drew criticism from the Missouri Gaming Association during its hearing earlier this month.

"I spoke to (Griffith) and let him know my concerns, there are significant differences between this bill and the ones you heard last week, like the tax rate increase," said Mike Winter, a lobbyist testifying on the behalf of the Missouri Gaming Association.

Griffith's bill has yet to advance out of the Emerging Issues Committee.

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