A key player in a bid to bring sports betting to Missouri is questioning whether the proposed tax rate for wagers is high enough.
Sen. Denny Hoskins, R-Warrensburg, who has been at the forefront of efforts to legalize betting on sporting events, as well as ongoing attempts to legalize video gambling, told members of a Senate panel Wednesday that the 8% tax rate approved in a House bill may be too low.
That amount is estimated to bring in about $9 million in new revenue to the state, compared with a proposal Hoskins has filed that would put the tax rate at 21%, generating an estimated $163 million annually.
“Is this bill the best bill we can get for the taxpayers of Missouri?” Hoskins said. “That gives me cause for concern. When we look at surrounding states, 8% would be the second-lowest.”
Hoskins’ comments come as a Senate committee heard testimony from Missouri’s professional sports teams on legislation that emerged from the House in March on a bipartisan 115-33 vote.
The effort to join other states in offering sports betting has been stalled in the Legislature for four years over disagreements on how to rid the state of unregulated, illegal slot machines that have flooded gas stations, truck stops and bars in recent years.
This year is different. The state’s professional sports teams, including the St. Louis Cardinals, the St. Louis Blues and St. Louis City soccer club, have banded together with the state’s casinos to lobby in support of a plan.
Under the House version, the state’s 13 casinos, as well as the sports venues like Busch Stadium, would have betting windows, but people also could use their mobile devices to place bets on games via websites such as FanDuel and DraftKings.
Bill DeWitt III, president of the St. Louis Cardinals, told members of the Senate Appropriations Committee that the alliance hopes to persuade lawmakers to approve the plan.
“We all support a safe and responsible experience,” DeWitt said.
Hoskins, however, suggested that the state should make more money on the plan if the teams are going to reap significant dividends.
“It’s kind of like a golden ticket,” Hoskins said.
DeWitt would not offer a specific estimate of how much revenue the team might receive from having an agreement with betting facility and marketing agreements in place at Busch Stadium.
Lobbyist Andy Arnold, representing an Illinois video gambling company, said the legislation favors profits for the teams and casinos over a financial windfall for state coffers.
“We don’t think the tax rate is high enough,” Arnold told the panel.
Steve Chapman, executive president and chief marketing officer for the St. Louis Blues, said the additional revenue brought by sports betting is key to keeping the Blues competitive against larger market teams.
“For us to be able to compete at that level, it is important to us to drive revenues,” Chapman said.
Other pro teams that lobbied for the measure include the Kansas City Chiefs, the Kansas City Royals and the Kansas City Current women’s professional soccer team.
Until a 2018 court case, full-scale sports betting was illegal in all states except Nevada. Some states moved quickly to get sports betting and its tax proceeds on the books. Illinois legalized it in June 2019. Kansas appears poised to join the ranks this year.
Anne Sharf, representing the Kansas City Chiefs, downplayed recent talk of the team possibly moving to Kansas when its lease at Arrowhead Stadium expires in nine years.
Sharf said the club currently is studying whether to upgrade Arrowhead Stadium.
Lawmakers said they want the Chiefs to stay put.
“We just want some commitment in Jackson County,” said Sen. Barbara Washington, D-Kansas City. “We love the Chiefs, and we want the Chiefs to be committed to us.”
The legislation is House Bill 2502.