JEFFERSON CITY - While it is legal to bet on horse races in Missouri, the state remains without a racetrack as companies have found it difficult to make money with a limited number of racing days each year.
But legislation in the House would create the first in-state racing facility since voters approved the concept in 1984.
The proposal provides for "simulcasting" of races at tracks across the U.S., something supporters expect to spur funding for Missouri's first race track.
The House granted first-round approval this week.
"This would have a lot of agricultural opportunity with economic possibilities," sponsor Rep. Wayne Crump, D-Potosi, said.
Allowing Missouri patrons to bet on out-of-state races would generate year-round racing revenue in addition to the state's 50-day racing season.
"It meets the entertainment desires of people with discretionary time and discretionary money," said Sen. Marvin Singleton, R-Joplin, sponsor of a similar Senate bill.
The Magna-Entertainment Corporation, a Canada-based racing company lobbying for simulcast betting in Missouri, operates similar programs at nine U.S. racetracks. It has proposed investing at least $25 million in a St. Louis racing facility.
"Full time simulcasting would generate the purses to attract horsemen," Don Amos of Magna said, pointing out that simulcast programs account for more than 80 percent of racing revenues.
A lobbyist for the riverboat casino industry testified in opposition, arguing that the proposal would not provide sufficient revenues for municipalities.
Sen. Doyle Childers, R-Barry, whose committee heard a similar bill last week said he also opposed expansion of the gaming industry.
"Gambling is the big issue behind it (simulcasting)," Childers said. "It's a major expansion of gambling in this state."
Crump said the legislation got a late introduction in the House, but he expects it to be pass quickly in both chambers, now that it is out of the gates.
The bill would also establish an as yet unspecified incentive for Missouri horse breeders with foals that win in the state.
"This is a Bright Flight for horses," Singleton said. "It gives money back to Missouri winners."
"Magna is fine, there just seems to be some problems with this legislation," Rhodes said.
Childers said the legislative stampede to push bills out before the end of the session makes the any horse racing bill a "low priority."
"There is no chance of it getting on the agenda," Childers said about the Senate version.
Crump remained optimistic about his version in the House.
"A lot of people have been disappointed because this never became a reality," he said.