JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — A coalition of Missouri's professional sports teams is backing a new effort to legalize sports betting that could put the issue to voters on the 2024 ballot.
After missing out on millions of dollars in betting revenues over the past several years, the sports teams decided they are done waiting for the Missouri Legislature to act and instead have taken the first step toward an initiative petition drive that would circumvent lawmakers.
The effort is spearheaded by the St. Louis Cardinals baseball team, and also includes the Kansas City Chiefs football team, the Kansas City Royals baseball team, the Kansas City Current and St. Louis City soccer teams, and the St. Lous Blues hockey team.
Gathering petitions signatures and running an advertising campaign for a ballot measure can cost millions of dollars — a price the teams are committed to collectively help cover, said Mike Whittle, the Cardinals’ senior vice president and general counsel, on behalf of the coalition.
Legalized sports betting would "provide our fans a good, new exciting way to enjoy sports and root for our teams,” Whittle said Tuesday.
Sports betting has expanded rapidly — it's now legal in all but one of Missouri's neighboring states — since the U.S. Supreme Court cleared the way for it five years ago. Kentucky became the 35th state with active sports betting when the NFL season began last week. Maine and Vermont have legalized it but are still working to set up their betting systems.
The last state to put sports betting on the ballot was California, where supporters and opponents of two competing proposals raised a record of around $460 million last year. Voters defeated both measures.
Earlier this year, the Missouri House voted 118-35 in favor of sports betting legislation, but it never received a Senate vote. Similar bills have repeatedly stalled in the Republican-led Senate because of a dispute about whether to pair sports betting with the regulation of slot-machine-style games that have been popping up in convenience stores.
“We’re not optimistic that kind of dynamic within the Missouri Senate will change,” Whittle said.
As professional sports teams waited for a resolution on sports betting, lawmakers passed various other high-profile issues, including expanded gun rights and restrictions on transgender health care treatments.
Several versions of a sports betting petition were filed Friday with Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft's office, which must approve an initiative summary before supporters can start gathering the roughly 180,000 signatures needed to qualify for the ballot by a May deadline.
The proposed constitutional amendment would allow each of Missouri's professional sports teams and casinos to offer sports betting onsite and through online platforms that could be used anywhere in the state. Some of the different versions would allow up to four online sports betting companies to receive approval to operate directly from the state.
The professional sports teams have been in conversations about the Missouri ballot initiative with the Sports Betting Alliance, which consists of BetMGM, DraftKings, FanDuel and Fanatics Sportsbook, said Nathan Click, a spokesperson for the alliance.
Under the proposed initiative, Missouri would impose a 10% tax on adjusted gross sports betting revenue, after the payout of winnings and promotional bets to customers. A similar legislative proposal had been estimated earlier this year to generate around $30 million annually when fully implemented.
The proposed initiative would allot $5 million to a compulsive gamblers prevention fund, with much of the rest going to K-12 schools and higher education institutions.
Nationwide, state funding for problem gambling services has lagged behind recommended levels, with just 38 cents per capita spent in the 2022 fiscal year. But the most recent states to launch sports gambling all required at least a portion of the revenue to go toward helping addicted gamblers.
Missouri’s sports betting proposal is not the only prominent issue drawing attention from petitioners. Various ballot proposals also have been filed to relax Missouri’s prohibition on most abortions.