Both Rep. Phil Christofanelli and his constituents want Missouri sports betting legalized this year.
But there were already five sports betting bills introduced in the state, so why did he decide to make it a half-dozen?
Christofanelli tells Legal Sports Report he saw three aspects he didn’t like mixed into other bills:
- An integrity fee to professional sports leagues
- Mandating the use of official league data
- Tying MO sports betting to video lottery terminals (VLT)
His H 2138 was referred to the House Special Committee on Government Oversight, where it is scheduled for a hearing Tuesday.
“I think everyone knows it’s already going on in a completely unregulated way that doesn’t protect constituents or bring revenue to the state,” Christofanelli said. “I think we should bring it into the light and create a fair system for people to bet on sporting activities, and we have a number of casinos that would like to offer that service.”
Common-sense approach to Missouri sports betting
To determine what to include in his MO sports betting proposal, Christofanelli went to riverboat casinos in the state. They would be authorized to offer the activity, so he asked what they wanted in legislation.
They told him to leave out the integrity fee and official league data mandate put in other bills.
“What I’ve heard is that providers who want to do this won’t if those are the terms enacted in these proposals. I think what a lot of people underestimate is that sports betting is different than other casino betting operations.
“Profit margin for providers is much more narrow than other types of gambling. Whenever you have some sort of fee that takes as much as 1% of gross revenues, that substantially diminishes the profitability of offering those services.”
Christofanelli added that he would not oppose a bill with an integrity fee or data mandate if that’s the way the legislature wants to go.
“Personally, I don’t think that’s the best public policy way of getting sports betting done,” Christofanelli said. “I think we should have another option out there, then let’s decide what’s the best way for Missouri and let’s get sports betting done this year.”
MO lawmaker sees data mandate as unnecessary
Christofanelli said casinos told him they don’t want Missouri sports betting legislation to require they contract with a particular party for data.
“I hear from providers they’ll likely use official league data,” Christofanelli said. “I think that negotiation should happen between providers and data owners, and they should reach a deal through the market rather than the force of the state government.
“Were we to require a data provider, I think we’ll see meteoric prices.”
Told of the “commercially reasonable” clause included with data mandates in other states, Christofanelli responded that the vague phrase sounds like “months of fruitful work for attorneys.”
Multiple brands on the table in Missouri
Other bills in Missouri limit to one the number of mobile platforms a licensee can offer, as many states have done.
Christofanelli heard from stakeholders that more online brands — or skins, as they’re commonly known — could lead to a more robust market and, consequently, more revenue for the state.
“I think that we should provide a fair amount of flexibility to whomever is offering sports betting to market their platforms in different ways, and this seems like a good way to incentivize that sort of behavior,” Christofanelli said. “The underlying goal is to allow providers to market their products in the way they find best.”
VLTs won’t go down easy
The other hot gambling issue in Missouri this year is the possibility of adding VLTs. They’re essentially slot machines, at locations such as bars, truck stops and entertainment districts around the state.
Some bills try to combine authorization of sports betting in Missouri with the addition of VLTs, which Christofanelli doesn’t think is wise.
“Any bill with video lottery terminals faces a much more tenuous path than sports wagering on its own,” Christofanelli said. “I think sports betting is a lot easier to get done on its own.”
However, H 2088, Rep. Dan Shaul’s VLT bill with sports betting did advance from committee to the House floor last week.
“If that ends up being the vehicle, all I care about is getting sports betting done so that’s great,” Christofanelli said. “But I think it will be a heavier lift.”
Show-me sports betting
Christofanelli noted that Missourians missed out on the opportunity to bet on the Kansas City Chiefs in the Super Bowl.
“It doesn’t make a lot of sense to me that you can go into a place and bet thousands of dollars on the roulette table but can’t bet on sports,” Christofanelli said. “If people could bet on Missouri sports lately, they’d probably be doing pretty well.”
Christofanelli called his bill the best policy and most straightforward way of doing sports betting in Missouri. However, with so many other sports wagering proposals in the state, he realizes there will need to be give and take to reach a consensus.
“I recognize the legislature is a political institution and a lot of times there are compromises that are made throughout the legislative process that result in other outcomes that might not be ideal,” Christofanelli said. “I will continue to advocate for what I believe is the best way to do this, but ultimately I’d like to see something get done.”