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Missouri has been slow to legalize sports betting, but budget woes may speed things along

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Missouri has been slow to legalize sports betting, but budget woes may speed things along

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Gamblers place bets in the temporary sports betting area at the SugarHouse Casino in Philadelphia on Dec. 13, 2018. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)

Associated Press

JEFFERSON CITY • While other states are moving to legalize sports betting, turf wars and disagreements over taxes and fees have stymied similar efforts in Missouri this year.

But, as state lawmakers reconvene for the second half of the Legislature’s 100th annual session this week, the state’s money woes could put pressure on the players to find common ground.

Gambling expansion has been debated under the Capitol dome for more than three years. But the tone is different this spring after a 2018 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that allowed sports betting to be offered in all states.

Gambling industry analyst Steve Brubaker said lawmakers in Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Tennessee, South Dakota, North Dakota and Arizona have debated various proposals that would allow residents to place bets on football, baseball, basketball and other sports.

Talks also are underway in Maryland, Minnesota and South Carolina, the Illinois-based analyst said.

In Missouri, industry groups are trying to maximize profits and minimize potential losses if wagering is legalized. That has led to a stalemate in negotiations.

Take the state’s casino operators as an example.

Under several scenarios, casinos would be the brick and mortar site for people wanting to wager on sports.

But, sports leagues also want a share of the pie if their games are being used to generate cash for the state and the casinos.

At the same time sports betting is being debated, gas stations, truck stops and video gambling machine manufacturers are pressing the state to follow the lead of Illinois and legalize slot machines in bars, fraternal organizations and truck stops.

The casino operators are pushing back, also pointing to Illinois where a proliferation of video gambling parlors has cut into casino profits as more people opt to gamble their money at their neighborhood tavern.

Plus, the casino operators argue, they’ve spent millions on their buildings and communities as part of their regulatory deal to operate in the state.

Major League Baseball also has grabbed a seat at the table.

In testimony this month, MLB attorney Bryan Seeley told a House panel that the league wants to create a fee-based partnership with the state that would “protect baseball and its fans by providing consumer protections and a strong regulatory framework.”

The casinos don’t like the fee, putting them at odds with the wishes of the St. Louis Cardinals and the Kansas City Royals.

In a statement, Cardinals President Bill DeWitt III said a gambling bill sponsored by Rep. Cody Smith, R-Carthage, has the team’s support.

“Legalized sports betting legislation in Missouri must protect the game of baseball and its fans from the risks of corruption associated with sports betting. (House Bill) 119 contains the right balance of protections and regulations to accomplish that goal while ensuring that Missouri creates a safe and ultimately successful sports betting market,” DeWitt said.

There are even divisions within those that want to legalize video poker. Some groups only want it in truck stops. Others want to allow it in gas stations.

One thing that could alter the dynamic is the state’s financial situation.

As of Monday, revenue collections compared to the same point last year were down $348 million, or 5.4 percent.

Although Republicans who control the Legislature believe that money will be made up as people pay their income tax bills, Democrats are skeptical that a hole that large will be filled before the start of a new fiscal year on July 1.

Rather than cut services or reduce spending on items like schools and roads, the legislative leaders could pressure rank-and-file lawmakers to support an expansion of gambling.

Estimates show the various plans could generate as much as $139 million annually once fully implemented in 2024.

Senate President Pro Tem Dave Schatz, R-Sullivan, is attempting to broker a deal, but is unsure it will happen before the Legislature adjourns in mid-May.

“I’ve met with multiple groups on that issue trying to see if there is a path forward,” Schatz said. “It’s not going to be an easy lift.”

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