Legalizing sports gambling the focus of state legislation

JEFFERSON CITY — Two bills that would legalize sports gambling in Missouri, including on online platforms, were debated by state senators Tuesday.

“In my view, there’s really not much of a reason not to do it at this point,” said Sen. Caleb Rowden, sponsor of Senate Bill 256. “It’s already happening. We might as well legalize what’s already happening and make a little money off of it.”

Twenty-six states have legalized sports gambling. Of those states, the 6.75% tax on revenue in SB 256 would tie Iowa for the lowest in the country.

At casinos in Missouri, there is currently a 21% gaming tax.

Sen. Denny Hoskins, R-Warrensburg, the sponsor of SB 18, a different sports gambling bill with a 9% tax on revenue, was critical of SB 256’s low tax rate.

“I just believe that we’re leaving a little bit too much money on the table for education,” Hoskins said.

Mike Winter, executive director of the Missouri Gaming Association, testified in support of SB 256 and said it would establish the proper framework to move forward with sports betting in Missouri.

“All this is taking place illegally,” Winter said. “We’re trying to drive it out of the illegal market and bring it into a legal, regulated environment where we can be assured that bets are handled properly, consumers are treated fairly and those who have issues with gambling cannot participate.”

Controlling compulsive gambling and preventing youth betting were concerns in the hearing. Hoskins said it will be important to have safeguards in place.

“There are 3.4 million cell phones in the state, plus any computer, plus any iPad, so basically, this would be the biggest expansion of gambling in the history of the state of Missouri,” Hoskins said.

Winter assured the committee that identity verification would be in place to prevent anyone who is underage from creating an account or gambling.

The other bill that would legalize sports gambling and mobile wagering is SB 217, sponsored by Sen. Tony Luetkemeyer, R-Parkville. A major difference in SB 217 is that it requires the use of official sports league data.

“Consumers deserve to know that their bets are being settled using reliable, verified information … directly from the leagues and distributed real-time to mitigate the risk of incorrect results for consumers,” Luetkemeyer said. “In the absence of this, consumers would have to rely on data that is pirated, web scraping or collected covertly in stadiums.”

Winter testified against SB 217. He said the bill was good for sports leagues but bad for regulation because the governing bodies of the sports leagues would hold a lot of power.

SB 217 has a 6.25% tax on revenue, which would be the lowest gaming tax rate in the country.

Bob Priddy is a Jefferson City resident concerned about the bills. With the low tax rates, he said funding for education, among other areas, will suffer. “This bleeding of money away from state programs and services that are funded by our admission fees (at casinos) needs to stop, and right now. These proposals for sports wagering are just cutting into another artery.”

The Kansas City Chiefs, St. Louis Cardinals and St. Louis Blues had representatives testify in support of both Rowden’s and Luektemeyer’s bills.

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