A pitch by Missouri’s professional sports teams to legalize sports betting inched forward Tuesday after Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft signed off on final ballot language for the campaign.
The next play for organizers is to choose one of eight versions to put before voters and then begin collecting the necessary 170,000 signatures across the state in order to place a question on the ballot.
The latest attempt to bring legalized sports wagering to the Show-Me State is being led by a coalition of Missouri’s professional sports teams, including the St. Louis Cardinals baseball team, St. Louis Blues hockey team and St. Louis City soccer club.
Top Cardinals brass are quarterbacking the plan on behalf of the sports teams.
Bill DeWitt III, Cardinals president, said Tuesday that the next step is to meet with the mobile gambling app industry to discuss which version to go forward with and then map out a strategy for collecting signatures.
"We’re going to do that here in the next week or two,” DeWitt said.
Rather than Wait For The Legislature To Act after years of fumbled attempts, the teams are turning to the initiative petition process to go straight to voters.
DeWitt said he’d be happy if the House and Senate could come to an agreement this spring in order to avoid an expensive media campaign for the voter initiative.
"I would be thrilled if we could get legislative action because then we wouldn’t have to do it,” DeWitt said. "I’m hopeful, but I’m also being realistic.”
The coalition filed eight proposed ballot questions, each with slight variations on a framework to impose a 10% tax on wagers, which could generate an estimated $29 million for education. The plan also calls for creating a $5 million problem gambling fund.
The proposal would allow each of Missouri’s professional sports teams and the state’s 13 casinos to offer sports betting on-site and through online platforms that could be used anywhere in the state. Some versions would allow up to four online sports betting companies to operate directly from the state.
The push comes as sports betting has expanded across the nation after the U.S. Supreme Court lifted a ban that had limited the practice to Nevada. Sports wagering has since been legalized in 38 states, according to the American Gaming Association.
But a recent poll of Missouri voters shows the push could face some headwinds.
A Remington Research Group survey on behalf of the Missouri Scout political newsletter last week of 711 likely voters found 54% in opposition to legalizing sports betting, compared with 26% in favor. Twenty percent said they were not sure. The margin of error is 3.8%.
Those results may partially explain why legislative efforts to make betting on sports legal have failed to materialize in the Capitol in recent years.
The House has voted in favor of legalizing the practice, but it has stalled in the Senate over disagreements about the proliferation of unregulated slot machines in gas stations, bars and truck stops.
Mike Whittle, senior vice president and general counsel of the Cardinals, earlier told The Associated Press that the professional sports teams would help supply the money needed to collect signatures and run a marketing campaign for the ballot measure.
The teams see betting as a way to stoke interest in their games and add to their profits.