Missouri is not typically thought of as a gambling epicenter within the U.S., but the state’s biggest markets – St. Louis and Kansas City – are top-12 cities in terms of the casino industry’s size. An estimated 24 million visitors per year visit Missouri casinos. Atop this is the state’s pioneer spirit in terms of the daily fantasy sports industry, state legislators’ apparent willingness to bring full-on legalized sports betting in the wake of the 2018 Supreme Court decision on PASPA, and even investigations into an online intrastate gambling network.
Betting in Missouri
Betting in Missouri naturally began in that sphere of American gambling lore, namely riverboat gambling on the mighty Mississippi and Missouri rivers. Following the Civil War, Missouri lawmakers followed the trend in the country at that time and got to work illegalizing most forms of gambling. Interestingly, pari-mutuel betting was legalized for Missouri citizens in 1890 – a good 40 years before the majority of the country followed suit – but the state hosted exactly zero horse tracks at the time.
Missouri residents would in fact spend over a century living in a gambling-free state after the Civil War. Relatively innocuous games such as charity raffles and bingo would stay illegal under state law until *1980*. The Missouri state lottery opened for business in 1986. A snowballing effect regarding games of chance soon followed.
In 1988 came passage of the federal Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA) and Native American tribes began offering bingo games as allowed under state law before year’s end. As part of the general election in 1992, voters in Missouri approved a state-wide referendum to allow riverboat gambling back into the state. Fifteen years later, riverboat casinos based in Missouri were hosting nearly 24 million visitors for just under $1.7 billion in revenue per year.
Year 2007 would represent the peak for riverboat casinos in Missouri, however. Environmental pressures combined with waning profit margins against an international financial crisis shifted Missouri casinos back to more traditional forms of casino gaming as Nevada-based casino hotel interests began investing in the state. As Native American-operated outlets flourished, several gaming houses were opened in the Kansas City and St. Louis areas in the 2000s and by 2017, the number of casinos stood at 15, as revenues returned to ’07 levels.
In 2016, Missouri lawmakers addressed the issue of daily fantasy football and other sports amidst the flurry of such legal actions taking place across America. In June of that year, then-governor Jay Nixon signed into law a bill addressing DFS games and implemented oversight of such contests by the Missouri Gaming Commission. The Missouri law is considered one the tightest yet most comprehensive laws regarding daily fantasy.
But against all the liberal attitude, Missouri has quite an odd tax law vis-à-vis betting in its law books. Professional gambling is disallowed in that it is a criminal offense to claim more than 20% of one’s earnings as deriving from gambling. Wacky!
Football in Missouri
Professional football was first played in the “Show-Me State” in the 1920s, the wild period of fly-by-night franchises, but didn’t truly stick until the 1960s, when the state’s two big cities both began hosting teams. Since the establishment of an NFL and an AFL team in that decade, the state has thrilled to four Super Bowl appearances, two Lombardi Trophy wins and two AFL titles from the pre-merger days. Unfortunately, as of 2016, Missouri has hosted just one NFL team and St. Louis looks to be bereft of hometown NFL action for the foreseeable long-term future.
The record shows that the 1923 St. Louis All-Stars ran up a record of 1-4-2 against NFL competition; the table of results from the club’s sole season are quite bizarre indeed by modern standards, as the All-Stars went without a score through five games yet held top-notch teams like the Green Bay Packers and Hammond Pros to under 6 points in the same span.
The All-Stars were the brainchild of Ollie Kraehe, who paid $100 for the rights to build an NFL franchise. St. Louis was the 6th-largest city in the U.S. at that time and had hosted the Olympic Games in 1904; Kraehe thus figured that the Gateway City would be perfect for hosting a football team. The “All-Stars” did not quite live up to the name and perhaps due to dull play consistently drew crowds measured in the hundreds. On the other hand, perhaps St. Louis just isn’t that great of an NFL town just because…
Kansas City ostensibly got an NFL franchise christened the Blues in 1924 and renamed the Cowboys for ’25 and ’26, but this team was strictly a “traveling team” which only played road games.
The St. Louis Gunners were born in 1931 as a semi-pro team sponsored by a unit of the Missouri National Guard (!). The Gunners spent three years taking on all comers (though mostly regional) before the NFL’s franchise owners approved the sale of the defunct Cincinnati (Football) Reds’ asset to Gunners ownership. The NFL commissioner then offered the Gunners the opportunity to play three regular-season games in ’34 – imagine something like that happening today – only for the team to go 1-2. The franchise existed for a few more years thereafter, but never again played official NFL ball.
Looking to block the rogue American Football League from basing a team in St. Louis, Chicago Cardinals owner Violet Bidwell Wolfmer, widow of the team’s former owner, was given permission to relocate her franchise there for the 1960 season. As bad as they’d been in Chicago, the St. Louis Cardinals were well worse: In 17 of the next 28 seasons, the team posted records of .500 or worse; won their division just twice; and went 0-3 in the playoffs. Mercifully, the team moved on to the greener pastures of the Arizona desert in 1988.
At least things went a *little* better over in Kansas City, which was gifted with seemingly the best sort of new sports franchise: A defending champion. In 1962, football fans in Dallas were so enamored with their Cowboys that the Dallas Texans’ AFL championship title was of marginal interest. Texans owner Lamar Hunt – one of the brain trust behind the formation of the AFL – thus gave up the Dallas market, bringing legendary head coach Hank Stram and the team to Kansas City.
The renamed Chiefs took a few years to ascend to the top of the rogue league, but Stram & Co. took the AFL title in 1966, just in time to participate in something called the “AFL-NFL Title Game.” Four years after that, the Chiefs brought Missouri the Lombardi Trophy, besting the Purple People Eaters of Minnesota in Super Bowl IV and taking much credit for the NFL’s acceptance of the AFL as an equal league.
But maybe the Chiefs used up all their good juju prior to the merger. In 1971, Stram was still head coach and Len Dawson was still QB for a playoff loss. This would be the last time the Chiefs made the playoffs until 1986 and wouldn’t win a postseason game until 1993 in Joe Montana’s penultimate year in the NFL. Andy Reid became head coach in 2013 and shortly thereafter did Kansas City fans learn about what Philadelphia Eagles backers had already knew, namely lots of regular-season wins followed by playoff losses due mostly to clock mismanagement.
Meanwhile, back in 1995 … Georgia Frontiere, widow of the team’s former owner, was given permission to relocate her franchise to St. Louis after years of futility and decreasing attendance in Los Angeles. The St. Louis Rams were therefore born and looked like an expansion team. Optimism for the 1999 St. Louis Rams season was high, as head coach Dick Vermeil had brought in free agent RB Marshall Faulk and would-be rookie wunderkind Trent Green – but Green was injured in the preseason and the helm was handed to some ex-Arena League dude named Kurt Warner.
And then, magic. All the Rams did in ’99 was go 13-3, set a few team-scoring records and win one nail-biter of a Super Bowl against the Tennessee Titans. Mike Martz, OC credited with creation of The Greatest Show on Turf, became head coach for 2000. Martz’s teams made four playoff runs and one more Super Bowl appearance in the next five years; his firing during the ’05 season led to an 11-year run of awfulness which included four seasons of three wins or fewer. Mercifully, the team returned to its former home for 2016.
The moral for St. Louis here: The next time a widow with an NFL team comes knocking, up the tranquilizer dosage.
Betting on Football in Missouri
In the wake of the 2018 SCOTUS decisions striking down PASPA, Missouri should see full-on legalization of betting on football in Missouri in proper sportsbooks. Not only this, but Missouri looks well ahead of the curve in making betting on football online that in the mid-2010s was solely the province of Nevada and Delaware.
To wit: Daily fantasy sports operators licensed in Missouri had to be enthused about a bill introduced in the state legislature in early 2018: This bill somewhat radically proposed that full-on sports betting would be allowed not only in Missouri’s licensed casinos, but also at any daily fantasy sports site registered with state authorities. This bill did not get through the various required committees, but a version of the same is expected to be reintroduced in 2019.