As a recent guest on the World Series of Politics podcast, St. Louis Cardinals senior vice president Mike Whittle called out state Sen. Denny Hoskins without ever using his name.
Among the complaints Whittle has with the senator’s continued obstruction to legalizing sports betting in Missouri, the Cards executive accused Hoskins of not being genuine in his fight to legalize video lottery terminals.
Whittle claims campaign funding from out-of-state interests is behind Hoskins’ insistence to regulate VLTs.
“I think there is kind of a lack of trust with respect to what the true agenda is for a certain senator. It is not veterans. It is not problem gaming prevention. It is out-of-state video lottery terminal interests that have funded his campaigns and maybe they will fund him in the future. I do not know. That is what it comes down to, and unfortunately, that is what we have been hitting time and time again. We do not have faith or trust that will change.”
The Cardinals are part of a coalition intent on getting a referendum before voters next November to legalize sports betting if lawmakers are once again unable to do it. It has filed initiative petitions to get the process moving forward.
Hoskins uses filibuster to help block sports betting measures
Bills to legalize Missouri sports betting have passed the House in last two sessions of the Missouri General Assembly, only to be stopped by Hoskins in the Senate. Along with adding amendments to the bill, including legalizing VLTs, Hoskins has used the filibuster to halt passage.
Much was covered in the podcast, but the conversation consistently came back to Hoskins. Whittle says the state senator has been the sole roadblock keeping sports betting illegal in Missouri.
“There is a huge trust we have with the Missouri House. There is a huge trust that we have with the majority of the Missouri Senate. I think it comes down to really one senator – maybe there is another one or two – but it really comes down to one. Unfortunately, here in Missouri, one senator can filibuster and block the passage of any bill and effectively hold up the entire session. That has happened, and it even has been threatened to happen.”
The coalition that the Cardinals are a part of has lost faith in the legislative process, Whittle said.
“In terms of why we are filing initiative petitions is because we have kind of hit a wall in the legislative process. I think sports wagering in Missouri has been overwhelmingly supported and was passed in bills in the last two legislative sessions by the Missouri House. It is when we get to the Missouri Senate where we have kind of gotten bogged down; not with sports wagering because I feel we have a majority of votes and have had the majority of support in the Missouri Senate for sports wagering. It is really another issue that has been attempted to be attached to sports wagering and that is the video lottery terminal issue. There is in particular one Missouri senator who has been kind of pretty adamant on trying to attach it.”
Most Missouri lawmakers are against legalizing VLTs
The problem with this is that there is not a legislative appetite for passing any VLT legislation. VLTs are slots-like gaming machines found in gas stations, bars and restaurants across Missouri. Their legality remains questionable. Law enforcement agencies have confiscated dozens over the last few years.
Adding it to sports wagering legislation effectively kills the measures, Whittle said.
“I think it is not a winning issue with the video lottery terminal issue. So therefore, instead of trying to seek to do that separately, it has been trying to be attached to the bill that we have supported in the last couple of sessions.”
The reason Hoskins claims he wants to legalize and regulate VLTs is to generate money for veterans and compulsive gambling prevention funds. To accommodate his wishes, an adjustment to the sports betting bill was proposed that would have added money for both causes. According to Whittle, Hoskins would not consider the adjusted proposal.
“There was an interest in increasing money. From what the senator said, there needed to be more money for veterans in the bill. That there needed to be more money for compulsive gaming prevention in the bill. We then offered that to him after this vote went down where the video lottery terminal issue lost where we said, ‘Hey, there are things we will add to increase the amount for veterans and for problem gaming prevention,’ and he would not even consider it. That told us there was not good faith.”
Coalition looks to bypass Hoskins if necessary
The coalition is not putting all of its eggs in one basket this time around, Whittle said.
“We have kind of hit the wall time and time again over the last three years and even before that, before we got even more actively involved as teams in the state. We see money is being provided to not only this particular senator but others from the video lottery terminal interests, and we are just thinking that somebody can very easily filibuster that sports wagering bill yet again and we are still in the same position next session or beyond. I think we are in a spot that we think this should be done, and we think that we are putting this forward as an initiative petition because we do not think that dynamic in the Missouri Senate will change, especially next session.”
Despite the lack of trust in what Whittle called the “dynamic” of the Missouri Senate, the coalition’s preferred method of legalization is the legislative process, not through petitioning. Lawmakers will probably introduce sports betting measures again in 2024. If that happens and Hoskins abandons his obstruction, Whittle says the sports coalition would withdraw its petition.
“Keep in mind, we still – and we have always said this – would prefer to achieve our goal through a legislative process. The Missouri legislative session starts in January and goes through May 16 or 15 or something in that time period. If we think it is something that can be achieved in the legislative session coming up, that is great. We would withdraw our petition.
“But if it doesn’t happen, we want to be in position to move forward with a media campaign that would begin once we see it is possibly not happening in the Legislature. So, in that time frame of early May, we would gear up for a media campaign that would go through the 2024 election.”