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Missouri lawmakers to take another crack at legalizing sports betting

Missouri lawmakers to take another crack at legalizing sports betting

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JEFFERSON CITY • Missouri lawmakers are poised to make another run at legalizing sports betting, putting the Show-Me state in line to reap some of the revenue other states are already collecting.

Less than six months after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a federal law that had kept most states from allowing wagers on sports, Missouri officials say the House and Senate likely will look at joining at least six other states that have begun offering bets on sporting events.

“I certainly anticipate it being out there for discussion before the House and the Senate,” said Rep. Dean Plocher, R-Des Peres, who sponsored legislation last spring that did not advance in either chamber.

Plocher said multiple drafts of legislation have been circulating since the high court issued its decision.

“Let’s be honest, the Supreme Court let the cat out of the bag on that one,” Plocher said. “There might as well be some continuity to it in how it’s regulated and enforced.”

Casino owners have pushed to legalize sports betting in Missouri, saying it would add $60 million to casino revenue annually, not to mention additional revenue for state coffers.

Sen. Denny Hoskins, R-Warrensburg, previously estimated that legalizing sports betting could bring in between $18 million and $40 million in new annual revenue for the state.

A spokesman for Gov. Mike Parson said the governor is not leading the charge for bringing sports wagering to Missouri, but he isn’t opposed to it happening.

The spokesman also said money generated by gambling is not a replacement for the failure of voters to approve an increase in the gasoline tax that Parson had championed.

Rather, money raised by gambling must be spent on educational programs. Under current law, state revenue from casino gambling go to education, as do lottery dollars. Since sports betting would be run by casinos, the revenue would have to go to schools unless the law was changed.

Among the sticking points during debate in Jefferson City last spring was a request by the St. Louis Cardinals and the Kansas City Royals for the legislation to include a so-called “integrity fee,” which they said would be used to offset increased expenses that would come with increased betting.

The fee, for example, could be used to safeguard games from tampering.

Opponents of such a fee say the leagues will already see more money from an increase in fan interest and engagement.

Under legislation debated in a Senate committee last February, representatives of the Cardinals and Major League Baseball expressed support for a proposal that would give them a 1 percent slice of all sports bets placed at the state’s 13 casinos.

Plocher believes there should be a fee, but said the trick will be finding a “sweet spot” for both the casinos and the leagues.

“It’s not a simple bill,” Plocher said.

Hoskins said the issue of the fees will remain divisive. But he said he will review how other states are handling to find a middle ground.

“This being the Show-Me state, we can see what is working and not working,” Hoskins said.

Hoskins said he envisions using some of the proceeds of an integrity fee to pay for physical improvements at sports venues.

In addition to New Jersey, Delaware, Mississippi, New Mexico, Nevada and West Virginia are receiving revenue from sports wagering.

In October, New Jersey reported nearly $600 million had been wagered since sports betting was legalized in mid-June.

Missouri is among a handful of states considering legislation, including California, Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan, Rhode Island and South Carolina.

In Ohio, Gov.-elect Mike DeWine said it was a question of when, not if, sports betting would be legalized.

“It’s coming to Ohio whether people want it or not,” DeWine told News 5 in Cleveland last month. “We need to be there to do it right, the right way.”

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