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Missouri lawmakers lament the exodus of gamblers to border states

If you drive east from Maloney’s Sports Bar and Grill in the Kansas City suburb of Overland Park, it takes about 10 minutes to get to State Line Road, which runs north-south straddling the Missouri border.

The lively bar has been a popular hangout for Chiefs fans for two decades, particularly on game days when the team is on the road. In recent months, some of the folks at Maloney’s have noticed an increase in Missouri license plates in the parking lot.

That will likely be the case again when the bar opens its doors Sunday at 11 a.m., six and a half hours before the Chiefs again host the Cincinnati Bengals in the AFC Championship game 20 miles northeast at Arrowhead Stadium.

“I’m here during our peak hours on game days and I definitely hear people saying they can’t bet in Missouri, so they come this way,” bar manager Ryan Lunnin said. “There’s definitely been some uptick because of all the people from Missouri coming here. We’ve always been a pretty busy sports bar, but maybe they’re hanging out a little longer, paying attention to games they otherwise wouldn’t have simply because they have money invested in some silly game.”

Legal and regulated sports betting was soft-launched in Kansas on Sept. 1 and off to a good start in the Sunflower State. Kansas bettors have wagered at least $160 million in sports betting every month since launch, meaning the state has waived approximately $800,000 each of those months in new sports betting taxes.

But such bets aren’t yet legal in Missouri, leading to an exodus of bettors to neighboring states.

Missouri politicians take note

Dollars wagered by those Chiefs fans and other Missourians across state lines have caught the attention of Missouri lawmakers, who have so far failed to pass a bill to launch legal sports betting in the state. . Members of the Missouri House of Representatives have asked geolocation company GeoComply to collect data for them on gambling activity near state lines, according to GeoComply spokesman John Pappas, and are expected to hold a hearing on the exodus of those funds next week.

Other border betting hotspots are found in a number of small Illinois towns across the Mississippi River from St. Louis on the opposite side of the state. Of the eight states surrounding Missouri, six – Illinois, Kansas, Arkansas, Nebraska, Iowa and Tennessee – have legal sports betting, while Kentucky and Oklahoma do not.

Rob Lenhardt, who co-owns Mac’s Downtown with his father, Mac Lenhardt, in the charming river town of Alton, Illinois, has noticed a similar increase in sports bettors at his establishment in the years since Illinois launched mobile sports betting legal in March of 2020. Some of those St. Louis punters are grabbing their betting slips from nearby Argosy Casino. Others monitor their sports bets on the bar’s TVs while betting on horse racing through its off-track betting room attached to nearby FanDuel Sportsbook and Racing down the road in Collinsville.

Rob Lenhardt said he’s been in discussions with New Jersey-based FanDuel executives about installing a physical bookie at its sprawling establishment that advertises the coldest beer in the city and serves toasted dumplings, a coveted regional delicacy.

“They have special promotions if you’re in a certain location when you place your bet on your phone, with special odds as a way to get people into the bookmaker,” said FanDuel’s Lenhardt. “The reason some people enter is that they prefer to bet with the money in hand. That way maybe the wife doesn’t know about it or they don’t have to wait a couple of business days to get their money.

The lost tax dollars could be substantial

For years, residents and business owners in New Jersey and parts of Pennsylvania have noticed a similar surge in attendance at some sporting events, as New York sports bettors have crossed into that state’s borders to place bets. New York launched legal sports betting on Jan. 8 and has since raised more than $700 million in new taxes from the business.

Missouri lawmakers have been pushing for legal sports betting since January of 2018 and came close last year, but two major efforts ultimately fell short. They plan to restart those efforts during this legislative session, but when Missouri finally gets launched, it will have lost another Super Bowl, another March Madness, and almost certainly another season of Major League Baseball, at the very least.

That’s why powerful interests are paying attention to the movement of sports bettors near the Missouri borders, because a 10-minute drive can make a big difference to a state’s bottom line.

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