After Chiefs Super Bowl win, Missouri House approves bill to legalize sports betting

·3 min read
Tammy Ljungblad/tljungblad@kcstar.com

The Missouri House on Wednesday overwhelmingly approved a bill that would allow Missourians to place bets on major sporting events.

The bill, which passed 118-35, would legalize and tax sports betting as gamblers continue to trickle into neighboring Kansas to place bets. It now heads to the state Senate where the legislation faces an uncertain future amid disagreements over whether gas station gambling machines should also be included.

“Our constituents want this,” state Rep. Ashley Aune, a Kansas City Democrat, said on the floor Wednesday. “We need to get it done and we need to do it this way without attaching it to something that can’t stand on its own.”

The bill, sponsored by state Rep. Dan Houx, a Warrensburg Republican, would impose a 10% tax rate on sports bets, expected to bring to the state more than $20 million each year.

Revenue generated from the tax would be disbursed to a fund benefiting elementary and secondary education. Under the bill, sports betting would be overseen by the Missouri Gaming Commission, which regulates riverboat casinos and charity bingo games.

Houx’s bill is backed by the region’s major sports teams, including the Kansas City Chiefs, Kansas City Royals, Kansas City Current, St. Louis Cardinals, St. Louis Blues and St. Louis City SC. The bill also received support from the state’s casino operators.

The legislation calls on the Missouri General Assembly to appropriate at least $500,000 to combat problem gambling amid nationwide concern over compulsive gaming.

Lawmakers have regularly touted broad public support for sports betting. When the Kansas City Chiefs beat the Philadelphia Eagles in the Super Bowl last month, there were more than 250,000 blocked attempts to bet on the game from online accounts in Missouri, Sean Ostrow, a lobbyist for the Sports Betting Alliance, representing BetMGM, DraftKings, FanDuel and Fanatics, told lawmakers last month.

However, a poll released earlier this month by Saint Louis University and British pollster YouGov, found that a plurality of 41% of Missourians disagreed that betting on college and professional sports should be legal, while 35% agreed. The remaining 24% said they were not sure.

While Houx’s bill received resounding support in the House, its biggest hurdle is an ongoing debate over whether sports betting legislation should also address controversial lottery machines, called video lottery terminals.

The slots have proliferated across rural Missouri in recent years — at gas stations, truck stops and fraternal organizations.

Attempts to regulate the gaming machines, which some prosecutors consider illegal, have previously complicated the state’s push to legalize sports wagering as many lawmakers think they should be separate issues.

State Sen. Denny Hoskins, a Warrensburg Republican and longtime supporter of legalizing and taxing video lottery machines, said in a text to The Star Wednesday that he was glad the House passed sports betting.

But, Hoskins’ text signaled that the debate over the gas station slot machines was far from over, pointing to provisions that would be included in his bill that addresses both sports betting and the machines.

“I do have some concerns that the bill does not include any money for veteran homes…and very little funding for problem/compulsive gambling,” he said.