Bill DeWitt III still holds out hope the Missouri General Assembly can get the job done, but when it comes to legalizing Missouri sports betting, the president of the St. Louis Cardinals and other executives from the state’s professional sports teams are hedging.
DeWitt talked with BetMissouri on Wednesday about why the Pro Sports Coalition filed four proposed petitions that would take the question to voters as a constitutional amendment next year.
“We would still like to get something done legislatively and avoid a long campaign on a ballot initiative,” he said. “But what’s the definition of insanity? Trying to do the same thing with the same result endlessly. I think this is a little bit different this time. (State Sen.) Denny Hoskins is term-limited, but he is here for this (upcoming) session. Maybe he decides he wants to get something done as opposed to just doing the bidding of the Illinois slot machine makers.”
The odds of that happening appear slim to proponents, which is why the petitions were submitted to the Missouri Secretary of State last week for review. If approved, signature gathering could start later this fall. The teams would need to gather at least 172,000 signatures from registered voters and get at least 8% of the registered voters in six of the state’s eight congressional districts to get the question on the November 2024 ballot.
JoDonn Chaney, a spokesperson for the Missouri Secretary of State’s office, told BetMissouri.com it normally takes 45 to 50 days for a proposed petition to be reviewed. That means, if approved, signature gathering could start this fall. The deadline to submit signed petitions for next year’s general election is May 5.
DeWitt: Referendum Offers ‘Fair’ Deal
The four petitions are very similar in wording, with the differences in the number of standalone Missouri betting apps licenses available to online operators. Missouri’s six major pro sports teams and casinos would also be able to host retail sportsbooks and partner with an online operator.
“There’s a couple of little factors related to the number of skins that we want to work through with the mobile operators and the casinos,” DeWitt said. “We hadn’t gotten the last little bit done, so we threw in a few different options. But the vast majority of the substance here is the same on all of them, and we would narrow it down to one and then proceed from there.”
Online sports betting licenses would cost $500,000 and permits for brick-and-mortar would go for $250,000. Each would last for five years. The sportsbooks would be taxed at 10%, compared to the 15% rate lawmakers considered during the legislative session that ended in May. A study released this week by GeoComply found Missouri was losing out on about $59 million in tax revenue by not legalizing sports betting already. That figure was based on a 15% tax rate. DeWitt said supporters wanted to give voters an option that would be “fair” for the state. While the tax rate is lower, the proposed initiatives cap promotional deductions at 25%.
“So, Year 1, the taxes in Missouri should be very robust, and I think the taxpayers should feel really good about the way we’ve positioned this,” he said.
Poll Numbers Not A Concern
Back in February, Saint Louis University conducted a poll that found more people opposed legalizing betting on college and pro sports, 41%, than those who supported it, 35%. However, DeWitt told BetMissouri.com he isn’t daunted by those numbers. Supporters ran their own polling a couple years ago, and he said they were pleased with where those results were at an early stage in the discussion.
A key talking point for the campaign will be that Missouri is missing out. The same GeoComply study found there are already 38,000 active accounts held by state residents. Although there is no BetMGM Missouri, BetMGM Kansas is just a few minutes drive to those living on the Missouri side of Kansas City.
GeoComply Co-Founder and CEO Anna Sainsbury said data from Missouri and other states where sports betting is still not legalized should spur action in those jurisdictions.
“States without regulated online sports betting should get off the legalization sidelines and unlock their ability to protect consumers and generate significant tax revenue,” she said.
“Every state around us basically has legalized,” DeWitt said. “You have people going across the rivers on both sides of the state to bet legally, and the tax revenue is just going elsewhere. We have illegal operators in the state who are not regulated and not taxed. I think when we get our message out there that this may not be for everybody, certainly, but there’s no reason for it to be untaxed and unregulated and have it just go to the other states. So, we think that’s a winning message.”