Missouri Sports Betting Ballot Language Clears Key Hurdle 

Posted on: November 22, 2023, 10:18h. 

Last updated on: November 22, 2023, 10:58h.

An effort to legalize sports betting in Missouri advanced this week with the formal approval of language that could appear next year on the ballot.

St. Louis Cardinals Missouri sports betting
St. Louis Cardinals President Bill DeWitt III stands outside his office in Busch Stadium on Aug. 10, 2023. With the approval of proposed sports betting ballot language, DeWitt says teams backing the proposal will meet with sportsbook operators to decide how best to proceed. (Image: St. Louis Public Radio)

Missouri Secretary of State John Ashcroft approved eight versions of the sports betting proposal on Tuesday. That clears the way for supporters to begin gathering signatures necessary to get it on the ballot.

The sports betting push is being led by a coalition of local sports teams, including the St. Louis Cardinals and Kansas City Royals in MLB, the NFL’s Kansas City Chiefs, the NHL’s St. Louis Blues, and two professional soccer clubs, Sporting St. Louis of the MLS and the Kansas City Current from the National Women’s Soccer League.

Organizers will have to gather more than 170K signatures from state residents to place a measure on the ballot. If a majority of voters approve, the language would be added to the Missouri Constitution. The Missouri Gaming Commission would then be able to establish regulations to govern sportsbook operations.

Bill DeWitt III, president of the Cardinals and a leader of the effort, said organizers would meet with mobile gaming industry members to decide which version of the ballot measure to pursue. They then begin collecting signatures.

We’re going to do that here in the next week or two,” DeWitt said Tuesday, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

The teams appear to have their work cut out for them in convincing voters to back a gambling expansion. That’s according to a poll last week conducted by Remington Research Group on behalf of the Missouri Scout, a subscription newsletter covering state politics. As cited by the Post-Dispatch, the poll found 54% of likely voters opposed legalized sports betting, compared to 26% who support it, and another 20% who are unsure.

10% Tax, Up to $29M Expected for State

Betting would be limited to individuals over the age of 21, and sportsbook revenues would be taxed at a rate of 10% under all versions of the proposed language.

Organizers estimate that establishing a sports betting program in Missouri would incur a one-time cost of $660K, and ongoing annual costs of at least $5.2 million. Sportsbook licenses are expected to generate between $10.75 million and $12.75 million, depending on which version of the proposal supporters ultimately pursue.

Because sportsbook operators will be able to claim various tax deductions, organizers said they can’t know how much ongoing revenue the state will claim. The proposal estimates state tax revenues ranging from $0 to $28.9 million annually, and says local government estimates are unknown.

Tax revenues from sports betting would be dedicated to education spending. That’s after covering the Gaming Commission’s expenses and required contributions to a Compulsive Gambling Prevention Fund.

If a ballot measure is approved, sports betting would be available at the 13 casinos in Missouri, as well as at professional sports arenas and online through mobile sportsbooks.

Legislative Stall

The push for a public vote comes after supporters twice failed in the past two years to pass a new sports betting law through the Missouri legislature.

The state House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved a new sports betting law earlier this year on a 118-35 vote. But the measure stalled in the Senate, and the chamber adjourned without voting.

State Sen. Denny Hoskins (R-Warrensburg) was blamed for the stalemate this year, as he was on a similar measure in 2022. Hoskins says he doesn’t oppose sports betting in and of itself, but is holding out for the state to pass a legal framework for slots-like “skill gaming” machines that have attracted controversy.

The legislature reconvenes in January, and organizers of the ballot measure say they will drop their push if lawmakers act, although they’re not optimistic that will happen.

“I would be thrilled if we could get legislative action because then we wouldn’t have to do it,” DeWitt said, according to the Post-Dispatch. “I’m hopeful, but I’m also being realistic.”