How The 2024 Election Could Shape Missouri Gambling Industry

Written By Hill Kerby on May 24, 2024
The Missouri Senate on the final day of the 2024 legislative session.

Multiple races decided in November could impact Missouri’s chances of adding sports betting to the state’s gambling options.

The election comes after the 2024 Missouri legislative session adjourned without legalizing it for the fourth consecutive year. However, residents are increasingly likely to see two gambling expansion opportunities on the ballot. One would legalize Missouri sports betting, and the other would allow a new casino in the Ozarks.

Come November, Missourians will elect a new governor, US senator, at least one new US representative and secretary of state due to incumbents retiring or vacating their positions. Other incumbents face legitimate threats from challengers.

The results of any or all of the races could play a role in Missouri sports betting or expanded gambling in the future.

Missouri governor race looks good for sports betting

Gov. Mike Parson will not be running for re-election, which means the Missouri gubernatorial race has no incumbent. The Democratic and Republican candidates will be determined after the primary election, which will occur on Aug. 6.

Nine Republicans and five Democrats appear on their respective ballots.

On the Republican side, Missouri Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft leads in early polls, but Lt. Gov. Mike Kehoe has closed the gap recently. According to FiveThirtyEight, a May 18 poll showed Ashcroft with just a two-percentage-point lead over Kehoe.

While neither has publicized their stance on sports betting, Ashcroft approved the language for a sports betting initiative in December 2023. That paved the way for the PAC Winning for Missouri Education to gather 340,000 signatures supporting sports betting. As a result, Missourians will vote on the matter this November, pending certification from the Secretary of State’s Office, expected in mid-summer.

Another Republican, Sen. Bill Eigel filibustered at the end of the 2023 legislative session to ensure sports betting would not become legal. After the session, he said he stood by the move. 

“The theater of Jefferson City will go on long after we gavel out today. Nobody got into politics because they were intent on being nice.”

Eigel is polling far below Ashcroft and Kehoe, meaning sports betting’s most prominent opponent is a long shot.

As for Democratic frontrunners, House Minority Leader Rep. Crystal Quade leads the pack by a wide margin. Quade is a staunch proponent of sports betting. She introduced one of the four bills last session to legalize it.

With Missouri being a red state in recent years, Ashcroft is currently ahead of Quade in the polls.

Sports betting opponents in House face challenges

The Missouri House has 163 members (111 Republicans, 51 Democrats and 1 vacant). Each member serves a state district and must be re-elected every two years. Sixty of those districts only offer candidate(s) from one party (29 Republican and 21 Democrat). Roughly two-thirds of the remaining 103 districts offer just one candidate from both parties.

This means several districts will not require primary elections for one or both political parties.

Approximately 46 state districts have no incumbent, guaranteeing around 28% turnover in 2025.

In 2023, House Bill 556, which sought to legalize sports betting in Missouri, passed through the House with only two “nay” votes. Those were from Reps. Michael Davis and Tony Lovasco. Both will have to win primary and general elections to stay in office.

Sports betting obstructionists leaving Senate

In November, 17 Senate seats will be up for grabs. After HB 556 passed the House, it stalled in the Senate. Sens. Eigel and Denny Hoskins were the most vocal opponents of the bill. Their time in the Senate comes to an end in 2024.

As the two main obstructionists to legal sports betting in Missouri leave their posts, their successors can change the course of history. This is especially true if Missourians reject the sports betting initiative on Election Day.

To fill Hoskins’ seat in District 21, two Republicans – Reps. Kurtis Gregory and Doug Richey – will compete in the primary, while Democrat Jim Bates runs uncontested. 

Gregory and Richey both supported Missouri sports betting legislation during their time in the state House. Bates does not have a formal stance on sports betting or gambling but supports the state’s ballot initiative process, claiming it ensures citizens’ rights to have a say in their state’s matters.

Four Republicans and one Democrat (attorney Matt Williams) hope to fill Eichel’s vacant seat in the 23rd District. The Republicans include former Rep. Rich Chrismer, Reps. Phil Christofanelli and Adam Schnelting, and Dan O’Connell

Chrismer and Christofanelli supported sports betting legislation as state representatives.

Hawley faces challenger for US Senate seat

One of Missouri’s two US Senate seats is up for re-election this year. Republican Sen. Josh Hawley hopes to return to Washington for his second term after securing more than 51% of the vote in the 2018 election.

Shortly after taking office in 2019, Hawley wrote a bill seeking to ban social media video games that exploited children and fostered addiction in users through “pay-to-win” game incentives. However, he has no record of supporting or opposing gambling expansion in Missouri.

Five Democrats will appear on August’s primary ballot. Lucas Kunce looks like he will win and challenge Hawley in November. Kunce’s campaign has raised $7.7 million, while his next-closest competitor, Karla May, has raised $37,000.

That said, Hawley is the favorite to win.

Additionally, all eight of Missouri’s US congressional districts will have elections. Rep. Blaine Luetkmeyer is retiring after eight terms, leaving the state’s third district open for a new candidate.

State Sens. Bob Onder and Kurt Schaefer and state Rep. Justin Hicks are among the Republicans hoping to fill his shoes. Democratic candidates include 2022 primary winner Bethany Mann, Andrew Daly, Jon Karlen, and Andrew Loague.

Republicans currently hold six of Missouri’s eight seats in the US House of Representatives. Reps. Cori Bush and Emanuel Cleaver are the two Democratic incumbents. 

Bush faces competition from St. Louis County prosecutor Wesley Bell. Jackson County legislator Sean Smith is running against Cleaver.

Legislators might not have a say on sports betting

Despite the gridlock in recent years over sports betting, the elections may not matter for that specific issue. If Ashcroft verifies the signatures submitted by Winning for Missouri Education, it’s up to the voters.

A recent poll showed that 60% of Missouri voters favor legalizing sports betting. Thus, it might not matter who is in office.

Instead, electing pro-gambling officials now might make any future gaming expansion easier.

Photo by AP Photo / David A. Lieb
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Hill Kerby

Hill Kerby is a proponent of safe, legal betting, and is grateful to be able to contribute to growing the industry. He has a background in poker, sports, and psychology, all of which he incorporates into his writing.

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