Professional sports teams submit petition signatures to legalize sports gambling in Missouri. •Missouri Independent

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 get the legalization of sports gambling on the November ballot.

The teams, who formed a committee called Winning for Missouri Education, turned to the initiative’s petition process after years of opposing sports gambling bills in the General Assembly. The signatures come from more than 8% of registered voters in at least six of Missouri’s eight congressional districts.

The proposed measure would add sports betting to the state constitution if approved by voters. It includes licensing 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 several representatives who attended a news conference Thursday outside the secretary of state’s office.

“We’re at a point where we wanted to take this path and put this issue before the citizens of Missouri so they could vote on it later this year,” Whittle said.

“As far as the sports teams go, I mean some of us are from different sides of the state. We are not necessarily on the same page on every issue, but this time we are on the same page and really appreciate the cooperation and support,” he added.

Representatives said the gambling tax will raise “tens of millions” annually to help fund education in Missouri. A budget note shows this could generate nearly $30 million.

About $5 million in money from the sports betting tax would go into a fund to help gambling addicts, and the rest would go to public schools and higher education programs.

Some members of the Missouri Senate, including Republican Sen. Denny Hoskins of Warresnburg, have repeatedly rejected sports betting bills in the Legislature, saying they do not adequately address the issue of problem compulsive gambling.

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

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

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

Whittle echoed Sachs’ sentiment.

“Our fans get it. They see this revenue going outside of Missouri and 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 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 sentiment to the people is in the hands of the fans.

“It’s just another way to engage our fans. There are also corporate sponsorship opportunities that come from this, but it really is all about the fans,” he said.

If the Secretary of State verifies that enough signatures are genuine, it will qualify for a public vote in the November election.

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

This story originally appeared in the Columbia Missourian. It may be republished in print or online.