JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle say Missouri is playing a losing hand after not legalizing sports betting.
It’s a big question many Missourians want to know: When will I legally be allowed to place a wager on college or professional sports teams?
Both Senate and House leadership this week said it’s a priority.
“I think it’s ridiculous,” said Senate Minority Leader John Rizzo, D-Independence. “I have friends that are going to Kansas every weekend. They get up early, they go to Kansas, they make their bets, and they come back to watch the football game.”
Throughout the country, 36 states have legalized sports betting, including all of Missouri’s neighbors. Earlier this month, sports wagering went live in Kansas days before the NFL season started.
“Over 340,000 attempts by Missourians to access Kansas sports books, 57% of those attempts came from Kansas City, Missouri,” said Rep. Kurtis Gregory, R-Marshall.
The committee met to discuss a sports betting bill Rep. Dan Houx, R-Warrensburg, filed for special session. Houx told members he proposed the bill to keep the conversation ongoing after lawmakers failed to pass it during regular session.
“It’s definitely to keep it in the forefront to show Missourians at least the House is trying to do everything that we promised them we would do,” Houx said Monday.
According to the Kansas Lottery, in the first two weeks of sports betting in the Sunflower State, 2.4 million bets were placed. The company GeoComply said 16,000 people tried to make a bet in Missouri the first day sports betting was legal in Kansas but were blocked. Of those people, 60% of them were in Kansas City, Missouri.
Houx’s legislation, House Bill 4, is similar to what was before lawmakers this spring, allowing those 21 and older to place wagers on college and professional teams, but would impose a 10% tax rate on sports bets, estimated to bring in $16 million to the state annually.
“We know here in the Midwest there is a tremendous appetite for sports, and we would assume Missouri is no different,” said Sean Ostrow with the Sports Betting Alliance, who represents Bally’s, BetMGM, Fanatics, FanDuel and DraftKings sports books.
Ostrow said that within the first weekend of sports betting in Kansas, the Sports Betting Alliance saw 132,000 new users.
A big point of contention this past session was what to do with video lottery games like slot machines. Lawmakers call them “grey” machines. These slot machines contain no consumer protections and say that someone will win two out of every 100 times, but there are no laws regulating that. It’s estimated that there are 20,000 “grey” machines throughout the state, but Houx’s bill does not include any language to address it.
The Missouri Gaming Association represents the state’s 13 casinos. Compared to other states, Kansas’ tax rate on sports bets is 10%, Illinois’ rate is 17%, Nebraska and Tennessee are 20% and Arkansas is between 13% and 20%.
The General Assembly is currently back in Jefferson City for a special session to cut income taxes and to reauthorize tax credits for farmers. The odds of the legislation passing during this session are low.
“Sports betting is clearly beyond the call and does not relate to Gov. Parson’s topics in the call,” the governor’s communications director Kelli Jones said Monday. “I do not anticipate the call being expanded to include sports betting.”
Missourians aren’t the only ones who want to place bets on players and teams. Representatives from the Royals, Kansas City Current, St. Louis City SC, Blues, and Cardinals also testified in favor of legalizing sports wagering.
“We would like to see it passed, and we think this is a good way for us to keep this issue in the forefront,” said Rich Aubuchon, lobbyist for the Kansas City Chiefs.
When asked about sports betting during a press conference Wednesday, Senate Majority Leader Caleb Rowden, R-Columbia, said it will be a priority next session.
“We look dumb, so let’s fix it,” Rowden said.
Rizzo said it makes no sense that Missourians can waste their life savings at a casino and if you have a medical license, you can buy marijuana, but he can’t bet on Chief quarterback Patrick Mahomes.
“I totally agree with the floor leader, these chambers look like fools for not getting it done,” Rizzo said. “I hope it gets done, I hope Patrick Mahomes is the MVP and I hope that the Chief wins the Super Bowl and I can bet on it.”
Incoming Speaker of the House Dean Plocher, R-Des Peres, said Thursday he also plans to make sports betting a priority next session. He said it’s something that already should have been done.
Parson’s special session call is to lower the state’s income tax rate from 5.3% down to 4.8% and to reauthorize tax credits for farmers for at least six years.
According to the National Council on Problem Gambling, around 92,000 Missourians are currently struggling with a gambling problem, ranking Missouri 33rd out of 50 states. Last year, there were 4,000 calls and texts to the National Problem Gambling Hotline from Missouri.
If you or someone you know is struggling with a gambling problem, help is available.
Find resources from the Kansas Behavioral Health Services, Kansas Gambling Help, or call the National Problem Gambling Helpline Network at 1-800-522-4700.