If you drive due east from Maloney’s Sports Bar and Grill in the Kansas City suburb of Overland Park, Kansas, it takes about 10 minutes to get to State Line Road, which runs north-south straddling the Missouri border.
The lively bar has been a popular gathering spot for Chiefs fans for two decades, particularly on game days when the team is on the road. In the last several months, some of the people who work at Maloney’s have noticed an uptick in Missouri license plates in the parking lot.
That likely will again be the case when the bar opens its doors Sunday at 11 a.m., six-and-a-half hours before the Chiefs again host the Cincinnati Bengals in the AFC Championship game 20 miles to the northeast at Arrowhead Stadium.
“I’m here during our peak times on game days and I definitely hear people saying they can’t bet in Missouri, so they come to this side,” said bar manager Ryan Lunnin. “There’s been some uptick for sure because of all the Missouri people coming over here. We’ve always been a pretty busy sports bar, but maybe they’re hanging out a little longer, paying attention to games they otherwise wouldn’t have simply because they have money riding on some dumb game.”
Legal, regulated sports betting opened with a soft launch in Kansas on Sept. 1 and has had a strong start in the Sunflower State. Kansas bettors have wagered at least $160 million in sports bets every month since launch, meaning the state has cleared roughly $800,000 each of those months in new taxes from sports betting.
But such wagering is not yet legal in Missouri, leading to an exodus of bettors to neighboring states.
Missouri politicians taking note
The dollars wagered by those Chiefs fans and other Missourians across the state’s borders have gotten the attention of Missouri legislators, who have thus far failed to pass a bill to launch legal sports betting in the Show-Me State. Members of the Missouri House of Representatives have asked the geolocation firm GeoComply to gather data for them on betting activity near the state’s borders, according to GeoComply spokesman John Pappas, and are expected to have a hearing on the exodus of those funds next week.
Other border-betting hot spots are located in a series of small Illinois cities across the Mississippi River from St. Louis on the opposite side of the state. Of the eight states surrounding Missouri, six — Illinois, Kansas, Arkansas, Nebraska, Iowa, and Tennessee — have legal sports betting, while Kentucky and Oklahoma do not.
Rob Lenhardt, who co-owns Mac’s Downtown with his father, Mac Lenhardt, in the charming river town of Alton, Illinois, has noticed a similar uptick of sports bettors in his establishment in the years since Illinois launched legal mobile sports betting in March of 2020. Some of those St. Louis bettors are grasping betting slips from the nearby Argosy Casino. Others monitor their sports bets on the bar’s TVs while betting on horse races through the its off-track-betting parlor tied to nearby FanDuel Sportsbook and Racing down the road in Collinsville.
Rob Lenhardt said he has had discussions with FanDuel executives from New Jersey about installing a brick-and-mortar sportsbook in his sprawling establishment that advertises the coldest beer in town and serves toasted ravioli, a coveted regional delicacy.
“They do run special promotions if you’re in a certain location when you place your bet on your phone, with special odds as a way to attract people into the sportsbook,” Lenhardt said of FanDuel. “The reason for certain people to come in is they’d rather bet with cash in hand. That way maybe their wife doesn’t get wind of it or they don’t have to wait a couple of business days to get their money.”
Lost tax dollars could be substantial
For years, residents and business owners in New Jersey and parts of Pennsylvania noticed a similar uptick in attendance during certain sporting events, as New York sports bettors traveled across that state’s borders to place wagers. New York launched legal sports betting on Jan. 8 and has reaped more than $700 million in new taxes from the activity since then.
Missouri legislators have been pushing for legal sports betting as far back as January of 2018 and came close last year, but two strong efforts ultimately fell short. They figure to restart those efforts during this legislative session, but by the time Missouri finally launches, it will have missed out on another Super Bowl, another March Madness, and, almost certainly, another Major League Baseball season, at minimum.
That’s why powerful interests are paying attention to the movements of sports bettors near the Missouri borders, because a 10-minute drive can make a big difference in terms of a state’s bottom line.