JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – With March Madness in full swing, many Missourians are forced to drive across state lines to place a bet on their favorite team, but after the House gave first-round approval to a bill Monday evening, sports wagering is one step closer to becoming legal.
During the NFL season, there were roughly 10 million attempts to place a sports bet in Missouri, according to GeoComply. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle say that Missouri is playing a losing hand after not legalizing sports betting. The House took the first step Monday towards making it legal to place wagers on college and professional sports teams.
“I hear from people every day when I’m out and about why hasn’t Missouri done this yet and quite frankly, we’re starting to look silly,” Rep. Phil Christofanelli, R-St. Peters, said.
While all of Missouri’s neighboring states are betting on their favorite team, Missourians are getting denied and are crossing state lines to place a wager.
“I do think that this ship has sailed, and the rest of the country is doing this,” Rep. Peter Merideth, D-St. Louis, shared. “Everyone in Missouri is frankly already doing it.”
On the first day back after spring break, the Missouri House gave first-round approval to a bill to legalize sports betting for those 21 and older, but a big piece of debate was on the tax rate on the net winnings.
“I’ve talked to folks on both sides of the aisles who want it to be higher and folks on both sides of the aisle that want it to be lower, but to me, it’s about consistency,” Merideth explained.
Under the bill, the state would impose a 10% tax rate on sports bets which would go to the state’s education fund and compulsive gambling problems. That rate is much lower than the 21% casinos are currently taxed at. With a 10% tax on net revenue, sports betting is estimated to bring in more than $20 million for the state annually. Revenue generated from sports wagering would go to the state’s education fund. The bill also earmarks $500,000 to help with compulsive gambling problems.
Some say Missourians are currently betting illegally.
“Let me tell you what it’s not funding, Missouri students or Missouri priorities, or Missouri infrastructure because year after year, after 36 states have passed and legalized framework for sports wagering, our state continues to fail,” Christofanelli said.
Just before the NFL season started in September, sports wagering went live in Kansas. Within months, the Sunflower State brought in more than $10 million in revenue.
Previously, representatives from the Kansas City Royals, Chiefs and the Current and St. Louis City SC, the Cardinals and the Blues have testified in favor of the legislation during committee.
“This is something that just seems so simple, and I would say that our constituents don’t understand why we haven’t gotten past the finish line,” Rep. Ashley Aune, D-St. Louis, said.
Over in the Senate, a big obstacle to legalizing sports betting is video lottery terminals, better known as VLTs or “gray machines.” These machines, found in bars, restaurants, gas stations and truck stops, are currently unregulated in the state. Sen. Denny Hoskins, R-Warrensburg, said sports betting won’t be passed this session without expanding VLTs.
The legislation would not allow betting on high school sports or on individual college athletes. It would also give the rights to major sports teams to control the advertising of sports books around their stadiums.
The bill needs one final vote in the House which could come this week. The legislation would then head to the Senate where it died last year.