A Missouri lawmaker wants to increase taxes on casinos, combined with money from legal sports betting, to better fund state-operated nursing homes for former military members.
Missouri state Rep. Dave Griffith, a Republican representing Jefferson City, has said he intends to sponsor a bill on it next session. The goal of the measure would be to increase entry fees casinos pay to the state to be used on nursing home care for veterans.
Similar legislation brought by Griffith in the past has failed. Could it be different this time? And how would legal sports wagering in Missouri affect the proposal?
State-run MO nursing homes struggle with staffing shortages
Missouri online casinos, which could generate millions of dollars a year for the state, were not mentioned as a possible funding source by Griffith. The plan Griffith is proposing is to increase the patron entrance fees casinos pay by $1 per patron. Casinos currently pay the state $2 for every person who walks through their doors. Griffith wants them to pay $3 per patron, with the extra dollars going directly to veteran care.
Griffith is getting help from lobbyist Gary Grigsby, vice chairman of the Missouri Association of Veterans Organizations.
“We’re all going to be supporting that. We need to get these bills moving forward.”
State-operated nursing homes continue to face funding deficits. Nearly all of their funding comes from taxes on gambling and marijuana sales. Those dollars have continued to decrease over the last several years, resulting in less beds being available for veterans at nursing homes. Many of the homes struggle with staffing shortages.
To combat the problem, Gov. Mike Parson signed legislation to boost wages. That helped, as direct care staff vacancies are down 15%. Some positions have climbed back from being 57% vacant to 93% staffed, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
Griffith believes his legislation has the potential to eliminate staffing problems altogether.
Proposal will undoubtingly receive pushback from casinos
Even if Griffith’s bill could aid veterans, his proposal is likely to again garner extreme pushback, especially from casinos.
The Missouri Gaming Association represents the 13 riverboat casinos active in the state. It stands opposed to the proposal. It is concerned that the extra fees would adversely impact the casino business in Missouri.
When former Gov. Jay Nixon attempted the same plan back in 2012, casinos argued that an extra $1 per patron would mean a $53 million reduction for casino operators annually. Casinos would then be forced to cut marketing, staffing and other services to make up that difference. That could then result in even less revenue for casinos. In turn, they would give less to the state in revenue taxes.
Patrons at casinos do not pay an entrance fee. That is covered by casinos. But as with any business, casinos would pass any fee increase costs on to customers, which could result in less customers coming though their doors.
Sports betting could help if it ever becomes legal in Missouri
The other way to add funding to nursing homes is to set aside a portion of the money generated from sports betting in Missouri. Of course, that would require a legal and regulated sports betting market in Missouri.
Passing sports betting legislation has been an impossible task over the past few years. While an appetite exists amongst residents and lawmakers, state Sen. Denny Hoskins has used the legislative system to block all sports betting measures. Hoskins wants video lottery terminals (VLTs), slots-like machines housed in gas stations and bars across Missouri, to be made legal.
Most lawmakers do not support that, so Hoskins tags amendments legalizing VLTs to every sports bill, effectively killing them.
Despite claims by Hoskins that he wants more money for veterans, he has consistently shot down sports betting legislation that includes money specifically for vets. St. Louis Cardinals Vice President Mike Whittle spoke about that recently in a podcast.
“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.”
To overcome the hurdle Hoskins has created, professional sports teams in Missouri have formed a coalition. It is attempting to get a sports wagering referendum on the ballot in November 2024.
There has been no indication the final, approved ballot referendum will include money for veterans’ services. The best hope would be legalizing sports wagering through the legislative process. That way, lawmakers could include funding for state-run nursing homes. Efforts to do so last session, though, made no impact on Hoskins’ obstruction.
As with legalizing sports betting, creating a new funding source to aid veterans will not be an easy task in Missouri.