John Murphy

Missouri News Network

A coalition of Missouri professional sports franchises submitted more than 340,000 petition signatures to the secretary of state’s office Thursday morning to try to put the legalization of sports gambling on the November ballot.

The teams, which established a committee called Winning for Missouri Education, have turned to the initiative petition process after years of having sports gambling bills struck down in the Missouri General Assembly. The signatures are from more than 8% of registered voters in at least six of the eight congressional districts in Missouri.

The proposed measure would add sports wagering to the state Constitution if approved by voters. It includes granting licenses to the teams, casinos and online websites, such as FanDuel and DraftKings.

Mike Whittle, vice president and general counsel of the St. Louis Cardinals, was one of many representatives who attended a news conference Thursday outside the secretary of state’s office.

“We’re at a point where we wanted to pursue this avenue and present this issue to the Missouri citizens to vote on later this year,” Whittle said.

“In terms of the sports teams, I mean, some of us are from different sides of the state. We’re not necessarily on the same page on every issue, but this one we are on the same page and really appreciate the partnership and support,” he added.

Representatives said the tax on gambling will generate “tens of millions” annually to help fund Missouri education. A fiscal note shows it could generate nearly $30 million.

Approximately $5 million in funds from the sports wagering tax would go into a fund to help compulsive gamblers, and the rest would go to public schools and higher education programs.

Some members of the Missouri Senate, including Sen. Denny Hoskins, R-Warresnburg, have repeatedly struck down sports wagering bills in the legislature, claiming they do not address the issue of problem-compulsive gambling to a high enough degree.

Missouri’s neighboring states — Nebraska, Iowa, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas and Kansas — have legalized sports betting. Oklahoma has not.

Thirty-eight other states across the country have legalized some form of sports wagering.

Adam Sachs, senior vice president and chief external affairs officer for the Kansas City Royals, said he has friends who “drive over and have BBQ on the Kansas side and wager on sports legally.”

Whittle echoed Sachs’ sentiment.

“Our fans get it. They see this revenue going outside of Missouri, and they ask the question, ‘Why can’t we keep it in Missouri?” he said.

Whittle said Major League Baseball prohibits teams from establishing sportsbooks on their stadium properties but that establishing them in nearby locations, such as in and around Ballpark Village, is an option the Cardinals have explored.

For the Royals, Sachs said bringing this vote to the people puts in the hands of the fans.

“It’s just a further way of engaging our fans. There are corporate sponsorship opportunities as well that come from this, but it really is all about the fans,” he said.

If the secretary of state verifies enough signatures are genuine, this would qualify for a public vote in the November election.

The General Assembly is currently debating a measure that would require any prospective constitutional amendment to receive a majority vote not only statewide, which is the current threshold, but also approval from at least five of the state’s eight congressional districts. The measure, if approved, could make it to the August primary and change the approval process for November.

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