Missouri lawmakers propose bill to legalize sports betting

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JEFFERSON CITY – Three sports betting bills were heard in the Missouri House budget committee Wednesday. Missouri is one of 14 states considering legislation to legalize sports gambling.

Americans wagered more than $10 billion on the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, according to estimates from the American Gaming Association. About 97 percent of that money was wagered illegally.

“It’s amazing how the gaming market has exploded here in what is offered to the consumer,” said Rep. Dean Plocher, R-St. Louis, who is the sponsor of the main bill, House Bill 2535.

HB 2535 would allow mobile sports betting on platforms regulated in Missouri by casinos and gambling boats. The bill proposes a 12 percent tax on gambling which would produce revenue for education.  

“You can bet in real time,” Plocher said.

Major League Baseball Senior Vice President of Investigations and Deputy General Counsel Bryan Seeley testified in favor of legalizing sports betting. Seeley said, especially in Missouri, baseball is a part of the fabric of the state and is very important.  

“We need things like data sharing from casinos so we can aggregate that data and spot abnormal betting patterns,” Seeley said, referring to an ability to spot cheating in games.

Seeley said that if strong integrity protections are put in place, sports betting could probably work. 

"We want to work with casinos to come up with a fee structure that compensates us for the fact that the betting is on our games and that compensates the increased risk we bear with sports betting, and the increased investigation and monitoring costs we bear," he said.

All state bills across the country await a ruling by the United States Supreme Court case.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie signed legislation to permit Nevada-style sports gambling in 2012. The NCAA, NBA, NHL, MLB and NFL sued to stop this plan.

The high court is set to hear the case, considering the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA). Beginning in 1992, PASPA outlawed sports gambling nationwide with the exception of sports lotteries in Oregon, Delaware and Montana and licensed sports pools in Nevada.

Missouri Gaming Association representative Mike Winter said the main Missouri house bill has a number of provisions that could be detrimental to how sports betting would be structured in Missouri. 

The main bill contains an integrity fee which would mandate some of the proceeds of the bets go back to the teams in the bet. But Winter opposes the fee as he believes it would reduce what the state gains from betting.

"Specifically, the integrity fee that's proposed in the bill, as well as the collection of data and how that is done and mandated through one particular source of information, are troubling for our industry," Winter said. "We believe there needs to be a proper framework put in place for consumers," Winter said. 

The Missouri Gaming Association (MGA) and the MLB both said they want the integrity fee to be looked at again in the bill. The MGA said the integrity fee could hurt casinos, while the MLB said the integrity fee will benefit their clubs. 

The bill is still in committee and made no movement Wednesday.