Missouri Secretary of State John Ashcraft approved eight petitions submitted by proponents for a Missouri sports betting referendum on Tuesday. That move now allows supporters to move ahead and start collecting the necessary signatures to get one of them on the ballot for the 2024 general election. However, a recent poll indicates voters may not be interested in opening the Show-Me State to licensed sportsbooks.
It’s uncertain which of the eight will proceed. The versions were submitted early last month by supporters after receiving feedback from the Sports Betting Alliance, a group representing BetMGM, DraftKings, Fanatics, and FanDuel, on the first four petition requests filed in September.
Regardless of which one is selected, supporters must collect signatures from enough registered voters to equal 8% in six of Missouri’s eight congressional districts. At a minimum, that would be 171,592 signatures, and petitions must be submitted for review no later than May 5 to be considered for the Nov. 5, 2024 election.
Analysis: Sports Betting Could Generate Millions In Taxes, Fees
As part of the review process, Missouri state officials developed a fiscal note for each of the eight proposed initiatives, which have similar language but differ slightly in the number of standalone licenses available for Missouri sports betting operators. Each version calls for a 10% tax on adjusted gross revenues, with licenses costing $250,000 for brick-and-mortar sportsbooks and $500,000 for online Missouri sportsbook apps.
According to the fiscal notes, initial costs for setting up the state’s regulatory and administrative structure would cost $660,000, and annual costs would be a minimum of $5.2 million. The analysis says initial license fees would raise between $10.75 to $12.75 million, contingent on which petition moves forward.
The tax revenue forecast was less clear. Reviewers cited the measure’s language allowing operators to deduct claimed promotions, including merchandise, and free credits against revenues. Because of that provision, annual state taxes on sports betting could range anywhere between nothing and $28.9 million.
Video Lottery Terminals Remain An Obstacle
Missouri is essentially surrounded by states that have already legalized sports betting. Seven of its eight border states allow retail sportsbooks, online wagering, or both. Oklahoma is the only holdout, and lawmakers there plan to revive a bill next year to permit the activity.
Proponents of legalizing Missouri sports betting include licensed operators, the state’s casinos, and major professional sports teams. They’re considering the ballot process after seeing bills fail to make it out of the state legislature. In recent years, House lawmakers have passed measures to allow wagering. Still, those have been blocked repeatedly in the Senate, with opponents using the state’s filibuster rules to hold up the legislation.
State Sen. Denny Hoskins, R-Warrensburg, says he wants to legalize sports betting but also supports allowing video lottery terminals to operate across the state. That’s a measure opposed by casino operators.
Earlier this month, Andy Arnold, a lobbyist for the Missouri Coalition for Video Lottery, bluntly told the Missouri Independent that efforts to keep VLTs out of places like bars and gas stations hinder efforts to pass sports betting in Jefferson City.
“Our attitude is, as long as you keep that attitude, we’re going to do what we can do to basically stop you from getting what you want,” Arnold said.
Poll Shows Missouri Voters Skeptical
While utilizing the referendum process would bypass the legislative stalemate, it still carries some risk. Namely, the proposed measure would need to have majority support from voters.
According to a recent poll, many voters aren’t that open to the idea of legalizing Missouri sports betting.
Missouri Scout, an online news site covering state politics, polled 711 likely voters in next year’s election. When asked if they wanted to amend the state’s constitution to allow sports betting, “No” voters outnumbered supporters by a more than 2-to-1 margin, 54% to 26%.
Broken down by region, sports betting received no more than 28% support in any of the state’s four largest metro areas, and in the remaining parts of the state, it earned just 18% support. On a partisan level, 36% of Democrats said they would back it, but 39% said they would not. The margins were 25%-61% for Republicans and 14%-61% for all others.
This is the second poll in less than a year showing that sports betting does not have strong initial support from voters. Some supporters acknowledge that and say their campaigns would educate voters on the issue and help drum up support.
However, should the measure make the ball and still fail, it could keep lawmakers from considering proposals in the near future, especially if it’s soundly rejected at the voting booth.
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