St. Louis Cardinals Willing to Help Bankroll Missouri Sports Betting Referendum

Posted on: September 13, 2023, 11:27h. 

Last updated on: September 13, 2023, 01:02h.

The MLB St. Louis Cardinals and several other professional sports teams in Missouri are willing to bankroll a statewide initiative to ask voters if they want to legalize sports betting next year.

St. Louis Cardinals Missouri sports betting
St. Louis Cardinals President Bill DeWitt III stands outside his office in Busch Stadium on Aug. 10, 2023. DeWitt says his family’s Major League Baseball team is willing to pay for a statewide sports betting referendum if lawmakers in Jefferson City continue to mothball such legislative efforts. (Image: St. Louis Public Radio)

Seven states neighbor Missouri. Six — Arkansas, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, and Nebraska — have legalized sports betting. Only Oklahoma has not. In recent legislative years, many Missouri lawmakers have introduced or supported legislation to join the six neighboring sports betting states.

A sports betting statute this year easily passed the state House of Representatives by a 118-35 vote. But the measure stalled in a Senate committee, with Sen. Denny Hoskins (R-Warrensburg) again cited for the stalemate.

Hoskins, in 2022, filibustered a sports betting bill that also gained House support. Hoskins isn’t against sports betting, per se, but believes that if the state wants to expand gaming, the General Assembly should concurrently pass a legal framework for controversial so-called “skill gaming” machines commonly found in restaurants and bars.

The Missouri General Assembly has adjourned for 2023 and isn’t due back in Jefferson City until January 2024.

Referendum Effort

The Cardinals and other Missouri pro sports teams are seeking to take the sports betting matter into their own hands. The Missouri Constitution allows citizens and groups to initiate legislation through a constitutional amendment via a referendum.

But the referendum initiative process is costly, as a petition must first be crafted and submitted to the state’s attorney general. If the attorney general signs off on the language, the initiative backers must obtain about 180,000 signatures to place the referendum on the next election ballot.

Cardinals President Bill DeWitt III, the son of team owner William DeWitt, told reporters this week that the organization is willing to fund the sports betting initiative. In states where sports betting is legal, leagues and teams have experienced a considerable increase in fan engagement and interest.

DeWitt says the Cardinals, NFL Kansas City Chiefs, MLB Kansas City Royals, and NHL St. Louis Blues are willing to bankroll the campaign.

“We still hope to try to get something done in the legislature next year. But if not, we’re prepared to go to the people directly,” DeWitt said.

Along with those “big four” sports teams mentioned above, the MLS Sporting St. Louis and the Kansas City Current in the National Women’s Soccer League are ready to pitch in for the referendum effort.

Simply Majority Needed

If the St. Louis and Kansas City professional sports teams decide to initiate a sports betting referendum campaign and successfully obtain at least 180,000 valid signatures from state residents, the ballot question would need only a simple majority to amend the Missouri Constitution to permit such gambling.

DeWitt says the teams are in talks with the Sports Betting Alliance, whose members include BetMGM, DraftKings, FanDuel, and Fanatics, to craft the sports betting referendum language. Though those specifics are still being ironed out, the early draft suggests imposing a 10% tax on gross sports betting revenue. No mobile licensing fee has yet been recommended.

If sports betting comes one day to Missouri, the teams want the right to incorporate a retail sportsbook into their venues and partner with a third-party online sportsbook. The teams say the state’s casinos would be afforded similar privileges under the referendum.