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Chiefs, Royals back sports betting petitions in Missouri after year of legal wagers in Kansas

Morgan Tencza/USA TODAY Sports

As Missourians continue to trickle into Kansas to place bets on sporting events, Missouri’s professional sports teams, including the Kansas City Chiefs and Royals, are supporting an effort to put legalized sports betting in front of voters.

The effort, spearheaded by the St. Louis Cardinals, would place a measure that would legalize sports gambling on the November 2024 ballot. It comes after Missouri lawmakers have failed to pass similar legislation over the past several years amid infighting among Republicans.

That failure has been especially clear in the past year as Kansas experienced moderate financial gains from sports betting while Missouri lost out.

Kansas officials say the first calendar year of sports betting exceeded their estimates for revenue.

Sports betting in Kansas formally launched in September of 2022.

In the year since the program’s kickoff, Kansas has brought in just over $7 million in taxes from sports betting. That represents 10% of the more than $70 million in revenue for casinos and betting platforms

When Kansas lawmakers originally passed the legislation to legalize betting, state officials predicted the state could bring in $10 million in taxes annually by 2025. Officials at the Kansas Lottery Commission say the state is on pace to do so, and may reach the figure a year early.

“We exceeded our expectations when it came to revenue,” said Cory Thorne, a spokesman for the Kansas Lottery. Revenues, he noted, were bad in months like February when the Chiefs won the Super Bowl and casinos had to pay out to a high number of people who bet on the hometown team.

For Missouri Senate Minority Leader John Rizzo, an Independence Democrat, the biggest thing Missouri can learn from Kansas is how to “get off first base.” Sports betting legislation has been bogged down in the Missouri Senate by a dispute over whether the legislation should also regulate video lottery terminals. The casino-like slot machines have proliferated across the state in recent years at gas stations, truck stops and fraternal organizations and exist in a legal gray area.

“It’s embarrassing that we haven’t gotten it done and that Kansas has clearly beat us to the punch on it,” he said in a phone interview. “It doesn’t appear that the Republican majorities can even get the ball rolling.”

In response to the legislative inaction, the St. Louis Cardinals filed four proposed initiative petitions earlier this month that would place sports betting in front of voters instead of the Missouri General Assembly.

All of the proposed constitution amendments, which the Cardinals filed on behalf of the Chiefs, Royals, Kansas City Current, St. Louis Blues and St. Louis City SC, would legalize sports gambling and tax it at 10%, allowing Missouri’s professional sports teams and casinos to offer sports betting both onsite and through online platforms.

Revenue from the tax would be appropriated to Missouri schools and colleges and to reimburse the Missouri Gaming Commission for costs associated with running sports gambling. A portion — $5 million — of the revenue would be used for a fund intended to prevent compulsive gambling.

The proposals differ in the number of sports betting licenses that can be distributed across the state, ranging from 12 to 16, according to Bill DeWitt III, the president of the St. Louis Cardinals.

DeWitt III, in a phone interview, acknowledged that getting the measure passed on the ballot was not a slam dunk. He said the organization had to get a message out that legalization is beneficial even to those who don’t bet on sports.

“This is happening already in our state,” he said. “It’s just happening with illegal operators who are out of state and, who knows, maybe foreign interests, who aren’t paying taxes, who aren’t being regulated, who don’t fund problem gaming funds. And, furthermore, for those who want to do it legally, they’re crossing state lines and betting in Kansas and Illinois.”

A spokesperson for the Royals said in a statement that the organization supported legalized sports betting “as an exciting new way for fans to engage with their favorite teams and sports.”

“We welcome and encourage the progress being made in Missouri, and believe all of our fans should have the same opportunities as those in Kansas, Iowa, Illinois, Arkansas and other states across the country,” the statement said.

A spokesperson for the Chiefs said in an email that the team has been working with other Missouri professional teams on legalizing sports betting. The Chiefs declined further comment.

Across state lines, Kansas does not have data to indicate how large a role Missourians played in sports betting profits. Though it is believed Missouians, especially in the Kansas City area, are crossing state lines to place bets there is no way to know how many are, or how large those bets are.

“It would be foolish to say there aren’t people from Missouri coming across the border,” Thorne said. “We don’t know to what extent that would be.”

Kansas state Rep. Stephanie Clayton, an Overland Park Democrat, said she believed out-of-state bettors had a bigger impact on small businesses, like sports bars, that they may visit during a game than they did on the betting industry itself.

“I don’t know if it would necessarily hit our revenue that hard,” she said of legal betting in Missouri.

Kansas state Rep. Nick Hoheisel, a Wichita Republican, doubted Missouri’s eventual legalization would impact Kansas substantially.

Nevertheless, he said, “God bless Missouri, I hope they never get their act together and never pass it.”

Whether through ballot measure or legislative process Hoheisel said he believed Missouri would ultimately legalize sports betting. Currently, he said, the state’s debate over it mirrored how Kansas’ looked a few years ago when it came down to grappling on details.

The longer that process takes, he said, the better it will be for Kansas. Hoheisel said decisions on items like tax rates could still result in Missouri residents looking to place large wagers to bet in Kansas if they can get a better deal.

Hoheisel said he was pushing to change Kansas’ tax code so that players could deduct their betting losses from income taxes on winning bets.

The proposed ballot measures in Missouri are still in their early stages and are not certain to reach the ballot. Citizen-driven initiative petitions require a time-consuming and expensive campaign in order to garner enough signatures to be placed in front of voters.

While Missouri lawmakers have frequently touted broad support from Missourians for legalized sports betting, it’s also not certain that a gambling amendment would pass if it reached the ballot.

A poll released in March from Saint Louis University and British pollster YouGov found that 41% of Missourians surveyed disagreed that betting on college and professional sports should be legal, while 35% agreed. The remaining 24% said they were not sure.

“Based on the polling numbers that I’ve seen…it does not appear that sportsbook would pass,” said Missouri state Sen. Denny Hoskins, a Warrensburg Republican. Hoskins has been accused by his colleagues of being the main blockade against sports betting, insisting that any sports betting bill also legalize and tax the gas station slots.

“I get all the blame and that’s fine,” he said. “I have thick skin and pride to stand for what’s right and protect my constituents and make sure that we get the best sportsbook possible.”

Some Missouri lawmakers are supportive of the proposed ballot measures while also remaining hopeful that the legislature could reach an agreement on sports betting.

Missouri state Rep. Dan Houx, a Warrensburg Republican who has filed legislation to legalize sports betting, said that while the sports teams appear to have lost faith in the legislature, he hasn’t. He said he plans to file another bill this year.

“I have a hard time believing polls,” he said. “Everybody always talks to me about sports gambling and they want it.”

Houx said he would like to see sports betting legalized and taxed at a higher rate than Kansas — which taxes it at 10% (the same percentage that would be imposed through the Missouri ballot measures). Hoskins said he would like to see more money — roughly $10 million — allocated to address compulsive gambling.

While Kansas steers some of its sports betting revenue into a problem gambling fund, the majority goes into a fund intended for recruiting professional sports teams to Kansas. That fund was created as an 11th hour change when lawmakers approved the bill.

Many lawmakers at the time saw it as an opportunity to woo the Kansas City Chiefs from Missouri to Kansas.

Thus far, the effort has had little success. Kansas state Sen. Jeff Longbine, an Emporia Republican, said he expected the Legislature to have conversations in the next few years about moving the money elsewhere.

“I didn’t ever anticipate it would generate enough money to attract a lot of the teams,” Longbine said. “That’s what we needed to do to get it passed at the time.”

Hoheisel said he’d prefer, at this point, to wait for the fund to increase and attempt to use it for a new professional sports team or the Chiefs, which would be the gold standard.

“Kansas City, just that whole area, has a very loyal, loyal fan base,” Hoheisel said. “I think Kansas City is probably a market for another sports franchise.”

DeWitt III said he believes that Missouri’s sports teams, as well as the state’s casinos and mobile gambling operators, will be able to craft a compelling campaign to get sports betting passed.

“That combined group, I think, would have a lot of firepower to get our message across that this is in the best interests of all Missourians,” he said.