Missouri lawmakers again consider mobile sports betting bill
Missouri lawmakers Monday again discussed legalizing mobile sports betting, another effort in what remains an uphill logistical and political climb.
Monday’s discussion in committee comes months after a similar legalization push fell short. The most recent bill comes in a truncated, narrowly-focused special session that Gov. Mike Parson reportedly said doesn’t even permit sports betting legalization discussion.
Rep. Dan Houx, the bill’s sponsor, said Monday that despite the governor’s reluctance to address the topic during a special session he wanted to reassure constituents that lawmakers were working on the issue.
“Every one of us is being asked ‘why didn’t we get sports betting done,” Houx said during a House committee hearing Monday.
These two obstacles make passing any sports betting legislation nearly impossible but could help future discussions, supporters hope. Several lawmakers in the House Emerging Issues Committee Monday argued the legislation could fit under the parameters of the governor’s special session call, which is intended to find tax cuts, as legal sports betting would generate revenue that could offset deductions elsewhere.
It’s too early to see if Parson will agree – or if the bill will even advance out of committee. No formal vote was taken Monday and there’s no timeline for any further action.
Missouri has considered legalizing online sports betting since before the Supreme Court struck down the federal wagering ban in May 2018. Despite bipartisan support in both chambers, the bill has faltered short of legalization in each subsequent legislative session.
Backers thought they had cleared these political obstacles earlier this year after a proposal cleared the House with lopsided, bipartisan support. But the bill was stalled and ultimately killed in the Senate as the proposal became entangled with provisions to pass legislation on unregulated “grey” gaming machines at hundreds of truck stops throughout the state.
These machines, which lawmakers have debated for years, act like slot machines and are opposed by the state’s casino gaming industry. Policymakers have not reached consensus on banning, legalizing or otherwise regulating these devices. With the larger grey machine issue unresolved, sports betting has repeatedly become a political casualty.
The latest failure comes even as neighboring Kansas, Missouri’s long-time historical and cultural rival, legalized online sports betting earlier this year and began taking bets Sept. 1. Kansas now has six legal sportsbooks which can be easily accessed by Missouri residents that cross state lines.
The online sports betting legalization in Kansas City, Kansas and not Kansas City Missouri, is one of many criticisms from Show Me State sportsbook supporters. Though passing a bill remains seemingly impossible in calendar year 2022, supporters hope sports betting tax dollars crossing into other states can, finally, get sportsbook legislation legal.
Missouri Rep. Dan Houx: “Every one of us is being asked ‘why didn’t we get sports betting done’.”
The new sports betting bill would allow more than 30 online books, three apiece for each of the state’s dozen casinos. This would mean significantly more betting options than Kansas, which will allow no more than 12, or Illinois, the other state Missouri shares a major metro area with.
This latest proposal also has the backing of the state’s major professional sports franchises, most of its casino operating companies as well as many major sportsbooks. Representatives from all these groups testified in support of the bill Monday.
No individuals or organizations spoke in opposition to the bill during Monday’s hearing.
DraftKings, FanDuel, BetMGM and Caesars, which combined have more than 80% of US sports betting market share by handle, all have access deals with Missouri casinos and would be set to enter the state. Bally Bet and Barstool are among other notable operators with Missouri brick-and-mortar casino partners. PointsBet, BetRivers and BetFantics headline what could be a long list of additional operators that seek licensure in Missouri.
Circa and bet365, two sportsbooks lauded by industry stakeholders and bettors but that have expanded slowly in the US, each have market access deals with Century Casinos in Colorado, but it’s too early to tell if either would come to Missouri. Century Casinos, which owns two properties in Missouri, has supported legal sports betting efforts in the state.
Missouri’s sports betting market could be further bolstered by one of the nation’s most business-friendly sports betting structures. The House bill passed earlier this year would have some of the nation’s lowest operator taxes and licensing fees.
These figures were raised during negotiations in the Senate, but any Missouri proposal that manages to pass both chambers would seem likely to remain one of the more favorable, from operators’ perspectives, in the nation. The House bill discussed Monday would have a 10% tax rate on gross gaming revenue, which is below the national average.
The vast majority of Missouri residents live within either a short drive of Kansas or Illinois. Neighboring Iowa, Arkansas and Tennessee also have legal statewide mobile betting while Nebraska is set to open retail books by next year.