A Missouri lawyer last week filed nine ballot initiative petitions that would legalize sports betting with the secretary of state’s office. The proposals all call for the Missouri Gaming Commission to regulate wagering, for betting to be limited to professional sports teams only, and for tax revenue to be earmarked for education and road projects.
Beyond that, there are key differences, and, in total, the proposals are similar to some of the many sports betting bills that have been filed in the General Assembly over the last four years.
Attorney Alixandra Cossette, who filed the petitions, did not reply to an inquiry from Sports Handle Friday. Nowhere on the petitions does it say who the proponents are, but a coalition of Missouri professional sports teams — the NFL Chiefs, Major League Baseball Royals, NHL Blues, and MLS St. Louis City Soccer Club — released a statement confirming their interest that ran in Saturday’s St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
“Each of our organizations supports the legalization of sports wagering in Missouri as a way to increase engagement with our fans and provide a fun and exciting new way to enjoy sports and root for our teams. We also believe that sports wagering will generate a significant new source of tax revenue for Missouri,” the teams said in a joint statement.
Missouri politicians can’t figure it out
Missouri lawmakers have been at loggerheads for four years over how to legalize sports betting. Proposals have run the gamut from allowing retail only to going for statewide mobile to creating a fund from revenue to support sports facilities to allowing wagering via lottery kiosks. But politics, the question of whether to allow for wagering on college teams, and differences over the tax rate have prevented a consensus.
Sen. Denny Hoskins and Rep. Dan Shaul say they’ll try again in 2022 and have plans to pre-file bills next month.
“I sense there’s a frustration at the lack of movement on the bills,” Shaul told Sports Handle in August. “The casinos want sports betting, the pro teams want sports betting. The VLTs (video lottery terminal industry] want their piece. They’re getting frustrated, so what happens?
“Denny and I will file similar bills and we’ll see where the frustration will take us. I’ve always been one to see where the market will take it, and let the state benefit from a safe, secure system.”
With Missouri lawmakers unable to find common ground on a significant expansion of gambling in recent years, four of the state’s professional sports teams are attempting to go straight to the voters to legalize betting on their games and others.https://t.co/CGvRE7wToJ
— St. Louis Post-Dispatch (@stltoday) October 30, 2021
Hoskins has his concerns about letting the state’s professional teams drive the process.
“Obviously I am for sports betting,” he told the Post-Dispatch last week. “But I do have concerns when we put something in the Missouri Constitution without proper vetting.
“There are a lot of details to sports betting, including tax rates, application fees, and annual administrative fees.”
Official data in play
The nine proposals backed by the sports teams would prohibit wagering on college teams, which stakeholders consistently say opens up opportunities for the black market to continue to thrive or for bettors to cross state lines to place wagers. Two of the states that share broad borders with Missouri — Illinois and Iowa — already allow statewide mobile wagering and betting on colleges.
DraftKings in 2020 partnered with the Casino Queen in East St. Louis, Ill., where businesses woo Missouri bettors with breakfast specials and weekend football events to bring them across the border. Eastern neighbor Tennessee launched statewide mobile wagering last Nov. 1, and betting is legal in Nebraska but not yet live.
— Jeff Dehne, be kind, pass it on (@dehnejd) July 28, 2021
The proposals run the gamut on tax rates, ranging from 6.75%-21%, and six of the nine have an official league data provision. Three of the petitions outline where wagering could take place — on existing gambling boats, in entertainment districts, and over the internet. The entertainment districts would be built around professional sports stadiums, and the pro teams would control whether or not wagering is allowed within the boundaries.
The arrangement could be similar to the wagering exclusion zones in existence in Washington, D.C., where betting in and around Capital One Arena is controlled by the NBA Wizards and NHL Capitals in partnership with Caesars Sportsbook.
Pro teams taking lead is unusual
This is the first time that professional sports teams have taken the lead on a sports betting ballot initiative petition. Lawmakers sent the question of legal sports betting to the voters in Maryland, Nebraska, Louisiana, and South Dakota in 2020, and tribes in California will do the same in 2022.
Commercial operators have teamed up in California and Florida and are in the process of qualifying initiatives for the 2022 ballot that would expand those markets.
In Missouri, a proposed ballot initiative needs the signatures of 8% of registered voters in six of Missouri’s eight congressional districts. According to Ballotpedia, 171,592 verified signatures would be needed to get on the 2022 ballot and proposals must be submitted to the state by June 8, six months before election day. An initiative must pass through the offices of the secretary of state, attorney general, and state auditor before getting final approval for circulation.