With Disarray In Legislature, Sports Betting Hopes May Ride On Ballot Initiative

Written By Adam Hensley on February 7, 2024
A picture of a vote being cast at the ballot box for a story about how the MO sports betting ballot initiative is the state's best chance at legalization.

Right now, it appears that a ballot initiative might be Missouri’s best shot at legalizing sports betting.

Legalizing sports wagering in Missouri has been a hot topic for some time. Efforts by lawmakers to create a legal sports wagering industry have failed in the last several years. And there’s little optimism at the statehouse that they can get it done this session.

However, there’s another option this year. A group representing Missouri’s sports teams is looking to bypass lawmakers to allow Missouri voters to decide the issue once and for all. The Missouri Sports Betting Alliance expects to garner the necessary signatures to get an initiative on November’s ballot.

It is probably the best option for Missouri sports betting legalization in 2024.

Hoskins’ stance on VLTs will undoubtingly stall legislation on sports betting in 2024

Many of Missouri’s neighboring states offer sports betting. Because of that, Missouri residents looking to wager on sports are crossing state lines, fueling other state economies. Even worse, taxes from those bets aren’t coming back to Missouri.

Lawmakers on the House side of Missouri’s General Assembly have successfully passed sports betting legislation in the last two sessions. Unfortunately, those bills have died on the other side of the statehouse. But one senator continues to stand in the way.

Republican Sen. Denny Hoskins has used filibustering rules to stymie all efforts to legalize sports betting in Missouri. Interestingly, he’s actually a proponent of sports betting, but with one catch: Missouri must legalize video lottery terminals, too. Hoskins sponsored SB 824,  which would legalize both sports betting and the slots-like machines found in gas stations and taverns across the state.

He refuses to give in on one without the other.

Meanwhile, Republican Sen. Tony Leutkemeyer introduced SB 852. It would legalize sports betting, but unlike Hoskins’ measure, it would not legalize VLTs. Leutkemeyer’s bill would create a 12% tax on sports betting, 2% more than Hoskins’ legislation.

In the last two sessions of the General Assembly, Hoskins has completed hours-long filibusters to block sports betting legislation that did not legalize VLTs.

“I’ll be an obstructionist until I get my way.”

There is also House Bill 2339, which passed its committee hurdle last week. But that would have to pass both houses, too, and, therefore, would still run into Hoskins.

Governor questions language on sports coalition’s ballot initiative

The ballot initiative from the sports coalition has raised some questions from Gov. Mike Parson’s administration. They said the initiative omits specifics on how Missouri would handle taxes and fees from the industry.

Jefferson City attorney Chuck Hatfield, who wrote the ballot language, said the language is intended to give the state “flexibility.” The signature-gathering efforts are being spearheaded by a political action committee called Winning for Missouri Education. 

Jack Cardetti, a spokesperson for the PAC, told the St. Louis Post Dispatch that the Missouri Department of Revenue would have full authority under the initiative to create a tax and fee structure.

“Both the Missouri Constitution and our statutes give the Missouri Department of Revenue independent authority to collect all taxes imposed by this law and deposit the funds.”

At this point, the ballot initiative is the most viable route for Missouri sports betting

Should Hoskins budge on his VLT stance, things could change. But it appears that the legality of VLTs could determine sports betting’s fate again in this session of the General Assembly.

The light at the end of the tunnel, though, seems to be the ballot initiative.

Unlike the competing bills, the initiative simply needs signatures from enough Missouri residents to get on the ballot. The coalition needs to collect just 170,000 signatures to get the issue before voters in November. The initiative would legalize both retail and online sports betting and set a 10% tax on bets.

DraftKings and FanDuel have shown support for the initiative by donating $2 million to the campaign.

In 2022, a similar initiative failed to garner enough signatures to make it on the ballot. Sean Ostrow, a lobbyist for the Sports Betting Alliance, said that evidence indicates about 350,000 Missouri residents have attempted to place bets on their mobile devices in the last year. That number is double the signatures needed for sports betting to be on the 2024 ballot.

Of course, the ballot initiative does not guarantee that voters will approve legal sports betting in the state. A St. Louis University poll from last year found that just 35% of respondents believed sports betting should be legal, while 41% believed it should not.

Photo by PlayMissouri
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Adam Hensley

Adam Hensley is a journalist from Des Moines, Iowa, with experience covering online sports betting and gambling across Catena Media. His byline has appeared in the Associated Press, Sports Illustrated and sites within the USA Today Network. Hensley graduated from the University of Iowa in 2019 and spent his college career working for the Daily Iowan’s sports department, both as an editor and reporter.

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