JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – Missouri’s professional sports teams are tired of relying on lawmakers in Jefferson City to legalize sports betting.
While Missourians continue to cross state lines to place a sports bet, teams like the St. Louis Cardinals and Kansas City Chiefs are done placing wagers on the general assembly. They want to put the question to voters on the 2024 ballot.
“I could scream until my face is red about how it’s been going,” St. Louis Cardinals president Bill DeWitt III said Thursday. “I’m frankly a little bit relieved we have a path, a couple of paths to get there, but ultimately it will be up to the voters and that’s probably how it should be.”
Missouri has been playing a losing hand when it comes to sports betting. DeWitt said the state’s professional sports teams are tired of waiting on lawmakers to get something done, so they are taking matters into their own hands.
“All I can tell you is that the teams are locked in and united on this IP approach, as are the mobile operators,” DeWitt said.
The St. Louis Cardinals, Blues and City SC, along with the Kansas City Chiefs, Royals and Current, are using the initiative petition process, similar to how medical and recreational marijuana became legal, to ask voters if sports betting should be regulated.
After missing out on millions of dollars in betting revenues, the coalition of pro sports teams, spearheaded by the Cardinals, would allow each of the state’s teams and casinos to offer sports betting onsite and through online platforms.
In a statement, the Royals said,
“Like the vast majority of Americans, we support legalized and responsibly regulated sports betting as an exciting new way for fans to engage with their favorite teams and sports. We welcome and encourage the progress being made in Missouri, and believe all of our fans should have the same opportunities as those in Kansas, Iowa, Illinois, Arkansas, and other states across the country.”
“Here is an industry that is growing and flourishing in most other states, including all of our surrounding states to Missouri,” DeWitt said. “Meanwhile, in Missouri, it is happening, but it is being done through illegal operators who aren’t paying tax, who aren’t regulated.”
Earlier this year, the Missouri House passed legislation to legalize sports wagering, but in hit a snag in the Senate, similar to previous years.
“If the Cardinals and the Royals decide they want to put that on the ballot, then the more power to them,” Sen. Denny Hoskins, R-Warrensburg, said back in May.
Other lawmakers, like Senate President Caleb Rowden, R-Columbia, along with DeWitt said it’s Hoskins’ fault that sports betting continues to strike out because he wants to regulate video lottery terminals, better known as VLTs or gray machines, found in gas stations and fraternal and veterans’ organizations.
“It runs into a brick wall in the Senate, not because we don’t have the numbers in the Senate, but because the filibuster rules basically allows for one person to kind of block it, and in this case, Denny Hoskins is doing that every year,” DeWitt said.
“I get blamed for blocking it quite a bit and that’s not the only bill I’ve ever gotten blamed for blocking,” Hoskins said. “There are others that don’t believe that it’s in the best interest to pass a sports book only bill that would bring only about $30 million to the state, when we could pass a video lottery terminal bill that would bring in $250 million.”
Hoskins has previously stated he plans to file a sports book bill for the next legislative session which starts in January. DeWitt said if the General Assembly manages to legalize sports betting during the next session, the coalition will pull their petition off the ballot.
DeWitt, along with the other teams, believes legalizing sports wagering will attract a new, younger set of fans, bringing in more revenue for the state and the organizations.
“I think as a Missourian, you would want to support it so it can be taxed, regulated, monitored and properly accounted for rather than just who knows who is benefiting on the illegal marketplace,” DeWitt said.
Sports betting is now legal in 35 states since the U.S. Supreme Court cleared the way leaving it up to each individual state to legalize it five years ago. Last week, just as the NFL season started, Kentucky became the latest state to allow for active sports wagering.
Under the proposed initiative petitions filed with the Secretary of State’s office, there would be a 10% tax on the sports betting revenue after paying out the winnings. It’s estimated to bring in tens of millions of dollars. That money would then go to the Compulsive Gamblers Prevention Fund and Missouri schools.
DeWitt said they are also working with the unions and players associations to make sure players are protected.
“It works on things like making sure there is a regulatory apparatus to make sure teams can do investigations if there is any monkey business,” DeWitt said. “It puts protections on players and other things that relate to making sure this is safe, open and transparent.”
DeWitt said the teams filed four different petitions and in the coming weeks, the organizations will move forward with the one the casinos, sports betting companies and teams all agree on.
Then, the group will be required to gather roughly 170,000 signatures by May to have the question on the ballot in 2024.
“It’s not going to be easy,” DeWitt said. “We might have to go a little harder than you might with more time but at least those who have done this several times feel like there should be enough time, particularly given the microphones the teams have and the games.”