Will Missourians get to vote on sports betting? Campaign drops off 340K signatures

The mascots for the Kansas City Royals, St. Louis Cardinals, and St. Louis Blues were in Jefferson City on Thursday to drop off more than 340,000 signatures to force a statewide vote on legalized sports betting in Missouri.

Sluggerrr was the savviest of the three. He encouraged his mascot counterparts to use a dolly to carry the boxes into the Missouri Secretary of State’s Office.

The signatures submitted by organizers for the sports betting campaign were roughly double the 171,000 required. If election officials verify the group has enough signatures, the measure would be placed on the November ballot.

The campaign, called Winning for Missouri Education, is backed by every major professional sports team in Missouri and has raised roughly $4 million, including high-dollar donations from the biggest mobile sports betting operators, FanDuel and DraftKings.

“We stand united with all of Missouri’s professional sports franchises in support of the campaign and believe that it is time for Missourians to have the opportunity to legalize responsible sports betting while generating tens of millions of dollars for our public schools each year,” Adam Sachs, the Royals’ senior vice president, and chief external affairs officer, said in a statement.

The effort comes after Missouri lawmakers have tried, and failed, for years to pass similar legislation amid bitter infighting among Senate Republicans.

The proposed constitutional amendment would allow the Kansas City Chiefs, Royals, Cardinals, Kansas City Current, Blues, and St. Louis City SC, to have a license to receive bets on games and other outcomes. It would also allow the state’s casino operators to be eligible for a license as well as two online betting platforms.

Missouri would tax sports betting at 10% under the proposal with $5 million allocated to a fund intended to help prevent compulsive gambling. The remaining money, as the coalition’s name implies, would go to public schools and higher education.

A fiscal note attached to the measure estimates that the state revenue generated from legalized sports betting ranges from nothing to $28.9 million each year.

Polling released in March by Saint Louis University and British pollster YouGov found that 60% of Missourians believe that betting on professional sports should be legalized while 25% were opposed. The remaining 14% said they were not sure.

But legalized sports betting still had detractors within the Missouri General Assembly, a roadblock the campaign pointed to on Thursday.

“Unfortunately, there’s a small cadre of senators who have been unwilling to let this come to a vote,” said Jack Cardetti, a spokesperson for the campaign. “And that’s why we’ve taken this directly to the voters.”

Rep. Dan Houx, a Warrensburg Republican, filed legislation this year that would have legalized sports wagering through the General Assembly. But the bill has not gained much traction this session with roughly two weeks left.

House Majority Leader Jonathan Patterson, a Lee’s Summit Republican, said back in February that he was “resigned to the fact that it probably will not happen this year.”

Missouri lawmakers have tried for years to pass a bill that would legalize sports betting, but the issue has been bogged down in the Missouri Senate by a dispute over video lottery terminals.

The casino-like slot machines have proliferated across the state in recent years at gas stations, truck stops, and fraternal organizations and exist in a legal gray area. Lawmakers disagree about whether a sports betting bill should also regulate and tax the gas station slots.

Supporters of legalized sports betting have regularly pointed to the fact that Missouri has missed out on millions in revenue, especially after Kansas launched legal wagering in 2022.

Since Kansas legalized gambling, it’s been speculated that Missourians, especially those living in the Kansas City area, have crossed state lines to place their bets.

Legal sports wagering has created yet another border war of sorts between Kansas and Missouri. Kansas Rep. Nick Hoheisel, a Wichita Republican, said in December that he wouldn’t mind if Missouri never legalized sports gambling.

“God bless Missouri, I hope they never get their act together and never pass it,” Hoheisel said.

Even as the petition seemed more and more likely to be placed on the ballot as the session went on, some Missouri Republicans still had gripes with the proposed amendment.

Missouri Sen. Denny Hoskins, a Warrensburg Republican running for secretary of state, has been one of the most vocal detractors of legalized sports betting.

Hoskins told reporters earlier this year he would rather see a legislative plan that would regulate video lottery terminals. Doing so could mean more money for the state, he said.

“I think yes, a legislative plan would be better, but we’ve gone down that road and unfortunately the casinos killed any sort of compromise that we tried to come up with,” he said.

Thursday’s signature drop-off was one of the major hurdles the campaign had to accomplish before reaching the ballot. Cardetti told reporters that the campaign expected the signatures to be certified by July.

“Missouri is one step away now from making sure that we have a safe, responsible way for Missouri’s to participate in sports betting,” he said.