Missouri's professional sports teams are prepared to bypass the legislature in favor of a ballot referendum to legalize sports betting, amid a lack of optimism that a legislative logjam can be broken in 2024.
Bill DeWitt III, president of Major League Baseball's St. Louis Cardinals, told Vixio GamblingCompliance on Wednesday (September 13) that the team remains supportive of efforts by the legislature to legalize sports betting in Missouri but said that failure to do so again in the 2024 legislative session would mean the issue could be put directly to voters later next year.
Lawmakers have proposed bills to legalize sports betting over the last five sessions, but an overlapping debate over whether to legalize video lottery terminals (VLTs) in retail locations has blocked any measure from passage in the legislature.
Republican Senator Denny Hoskins, who supports legalizing sports betting, has been able to block several bills over his insistence that the issue be tied to legislation to allow VLTs at bars and fraternal establishments while eliminating unregulated and untaxed grey-market gaming machines.
House Bill 556, authored by Republican state Representative Dan Houx, passed the House of Representatives this year by a 118-35 vote. But Hoskins, who sits on the Senate Appropriations Committee, was able to use Senate procedural rules to block any consideration of the measure prior to the legislature adjourning in May.
When asked if he and other Missouri sports team executives could be supportive of VLTs as a means of securing the passage of sports-betting legislation, DeWitt III said that was not really an issue for the teams.
But DeWitt III added that teams were not confident of getting anything through the legislature with Hoskins in the Senate.
“He would rather do the bidding of Illinois slot-route operators in the Senate than the citizens of Missouri,” he said.
DeWitt III, son of team owner William DeWitt, said the baseball franchise is united with a group of other sports teams that includes the Cardinals, St. Louis Blues, Kansas City Royals, Kansas City Chiefs, Kansas City Current and St. Louis Soccer Club.
Four separate ballot petitions were submitted Friday (September 8) to the Missouri Secretary of State’s office with the aim of giving state voters the option to authorize sports wagering through a referendum that would be held in November 2024.
DeWitt III said he believes that teams and sports-betting proponents have the votes in the legislature to pass a sports-betting bill.
“We decided to support a ballot initiative as an alternative if we can’t get something through the legislature,” he said.
“We would be happy with a legislative fix and put aside the ballots.”
To get a measure on the 2024 ballot in Missouri, advocates will need to gather more than 170,000 signatures. The signatures must be submitted to the Secretary of State’s office six months before election day, which is scheduled for November 5, 2024.
The Missouri General Assembly has adjourned for 2023 and is tentatively scheduled to return to Jefferson City on January 4, 2024.
DeWitt III said sports-betting proponents would start collecting signatures for the ballot initiative prior to the start of the session.