The House gave initial approval Monday to a bill that would legalize sports wagering in Missouri.

Representatives struck down five proposed amendments to the bill before it was approved.

The bill, which combines House bills 556 and 581, only deals with wagering on sporting events. It does not address video lottery terminals. Efforts to regulate those terminals has been included in previous sports wagering bills and blamed for killing those efforts.

The representatives discussed the 10% tax rate on sports wagering. Rep. Marlene Terry, D-St. Louis, and Del Taylor, D-St. Louis, both proposed amendments that would increase this rate.

In response to these proposals, Rep. Dan Houx, R-Warrensburg, the sponsor of the bill, said it is important to keep the tax rate at 10% so that it is in the best position for Senate negotiations.

“I’m going to work every day that I can over there to make sure we come up with a good bill at the end of the day that’s going to make the state of Missouri proud and the state of Missouri happy,” Houx said.

Rep. Peter Merideth, D-St. Louis, asked if Houx would still support the legislation if the tax rate was 15%. Merideth said that Taylor’s proposed 15% tax rate would be more in-line with policies in other states.

Houx said he would still support the legislation, but he wants to keep the bill in the best shape for the Senate.

Terry’s failed amendment similarly would have raised the tax rate to be consistent with other types of wagering in Missouri, which Houx said is 21%.

Merideth said there is no reason that sports betting should be treated differently than any other type of gambling. He also said he was concerned about making this law without the vote of the people.

“Every change to gambling in this state ever has required the vote of the people,” Merideth said.

He said legalizing sports wagering would be the largest expansion to gambling that Missouri has ever had, “especially because this would allow you to gamble from your phone.”

Merideth said it also seems problematic that, without the vote of the people, sports wagering would have less than half the tax rate of other types of gambling.

Representatives emphasized that they wanted to keep Missouri gamblers from going to other states to bet on sporting events. Legal sports wagering could keep this revenue in Missouri.

Rep. Jim Murphy, R-St. Louis, said Missouri is currently losing millions of tax dollars because people have not been able to legally bet during March Madness.

“Our constituents absolutely want it, our sports teams want it,” Murphy said. “I believe the majority of this body wants it, and I believe it will pass in the Senate.”

This story was republished from the Columbia Missourian

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