JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – Sports fans can place a wager in any of Missouri’s neighboring states, but not within the borders of the Show Me State. 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 said it’s a priority, but what does the state’s top leader say about it?
“You just can’t call a special session because something doesn’t get passed every year in the General Assembly,” Gov. Mike Parson said last month.
Missourians, like Senate Minority Leader John Rizzo (D-Independence), want to know when sports betting will be legally allowed in the state.
“If I go home next May or I’m at my next fantasy football draft without sports betting, they are going to put me out on a rail,” Rizzo said. “We’ve got to do whatever it is we need to do to get it done. My constituents want it, but more importantly, it’s just something this state needs to get done.”
Throughout the country, 36 states have legalized sports betting, including all of Missouri’s neighbors. Last month, sports wagering went live in Kansas days before the start of the NFL season.
“All of a sudden, people can go over there and do their thing on that and Missouri can’t,” Parson said. “We’ll see how it all plays out but that’s the General Assembly’s thing.”
Last week, lawmakers adjourned from a special session where they passed legislation lowering the state’s income tax rate and reauthorized tax credits for farmers, but some wanted the governor to include sports wagering on the agenda.
“Over 340,000 attempts by Missourians to access Kansas sports books, 57% of those attempts came from Kansas City, Missouri,” Rep. Kurtis Gregory (R-Marshall) told the House Emerging Issues Committee in September.
The committee met to discuss the bill Rep. Dan Houx (R-Warrensburg) filed for the special session. Houx told members he proposed the bill to keep the conversation ongoing after lawmakers failed to pass it during regular session.
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.
“If there is any special session, I would even entertain for it would be for sports betting,” Rizzo said.
But Parson didn’t expand his special session call, which means the topic now has to wait to be discussed until lawmakers come back in January.
Will the governor push lawmakers to accomplish legalizing sports betting in 2023?
“I think it’s going to be one of those things that’s coming when the day comes,” Parson said. “The day is going to happen but that needs to go through the legislative process, and it goes in there year in and year out.”
Houx’s legislation, House Bill 4, which was filed during special session, 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.
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 ca 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%.
During the interview, the governor said he believes it will be a hot topic next session but didn’t give any indication if he supports it.
“That decision will be mine when it hits my desk but until then, you have to let the process work out and see what happens,” Parson said.
Missourians aren’t the only ones who want to place bets on players and teams. Representatives from the Royals, Chiefs, Kansas City Current, St. Louis City SC, Blues, and Cardinals also testified in favor of legalizing sports wagering.
When asked about sports betting during a press conference at the end of September, 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.
The Kansas City’s director of gaming facilities, Keith Kocher, said in an email Thursday that there were more than $160 million worth of wagers placed in Kansas City in September. Kocher said that roughly $138 million in prizes were paid out, and $34 million was from free or promotional play. The Lottery previously said that in the first 10 days after sports betting went live, about 2.4 million bets were placed.
Rizzo, who lives near the Missouri and Kansas border said he has friends that travel to the Sunflower State every weekend to place bets.
“They get up early, they go to Kansas, they make their bets and they come back and watch the football game,” Rizzo said. “It’s embarrassing that the Republican Majority has not been able to figure out how to get that done.”
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.
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.