All fingers point to Missouri state Sen. Denny Hoskins when it comes to the failed sports betting legislative efforts over the last three years.
St. Louis Cardinals President Bill DeWitt III is the most recent figure to express his displeasure with Hoskins. He’s calling out the senator’s refusal to budge from what has been the primary cause of gridlock for three straight legislative sessions. Hoskins insists on legalizing video lottery terminals alongside sports wagering.
“Obviously, he has been our issue. We are ready to negotiate with him and he’s shared no interest. We’re frustrated, it’s a winning issue.”
DeWitt’s Cardinals are part of a statewide coalition to legalize Missouri sports betting. The alliance consists of Missouri’s professional sports teams and five of its six casino operators. The alliance has supported all the House-passed sports betting bills that Hoskins has then killed in the Senate.
The ‘definition of insanity’
Hoskins – a self-described obstructionist – is the primary reason sports betting remains prohibited in The Show Me State. Despite support from local legislators, professional sports teams and casinos, Hoskins has used his power to shoot down any legislation in an attempt to have video lottery terminals (VLTs) included in the bill.
But Hoskins is in the minority among his peers, and frustration continues to mount. He has remained unwilling to negotiate on the matter even as his own bill legalizing VLTs failed to make it out of committee.
As a result, all sides have remained at an impasse. None have gotten anything they want, creating a losing situation across the board.
DeWitt has referred to these results as “insanity” on multiple occasions.
“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and getting the same result, which seems to be what’s been happening in Jeff City on this issue. We don’t think Denny is serious. The definition of insanity, this situation is in the dictionary. The door for negotiation is always open. But when you insist on doing the business of Illinois gray-machine companies, it makes it tough.”
Hoskins insists MO sports betting won’t bring in enough money
DeWitt’s claims of “Illinois gray-machine companies” relate to two Illinois-based VLT companies, J&J Ventures Gaming and Accel Entertainment Gaming, that have been near the top of campaign donations for Hoskins’ attempts to legalize VLTs.
Hoskins sees it differently. He says he is the one doing the compromising.
“Sportsbook will bring zero dollars into our small businesses, and sportsbook doesn’t bring any money into our veterans’ homes and cemeteries.”
Hoskins also stated that he wanted to “make sure that it’s not just the casinos getting rich and everyone else getting hurt here in the state” before passing sports betting legislation.
Some estimates put sports betting tax revenue in the range of $10 million to $20 million annually. According to Hoskins, his VLT bill would bring in $250 million a year in additional revenue to the state.
“In order to have a dedicated funding source for our veterans’ homes and cemeteries, sportsbooks alone won’t do it. So, that’s why, in my opinion, we need to pass video lottery terminals as well.”
Two Missouri sports betting options for 2024
If Hoskins stalls sports betting efforts during the 2024 legislative session like the past two years, the coalition can push forward with a ballot measure and allow Missourians to vote on the issue. If passed, the ballot measure would become law by amending the state constitution.
The coalition would need to move forward without knowing how Hoskins’ final session will shake up, though. In order to gain ballot access, it would need to gain around 170,000 signatures by May 5, 2024, six months before November’s election.
Rep. Dan Houx, author of the last two successful Missouri sports betting House bills, said he supports the coalition and would support a ballot measure. However, he also said the legislative path remains the best way to legalize sports wagering.
That path, though, remains blocked by Hoskins.
Missouri casinos and sports teams are on board
The coalition that supported identical House and Senate bills includes all six of Missouri’s sports teams and all but one casino operator. Boyd Gaming disagrees with verbiage about official league data but is otherwise on board.
The bill allows for 39 mobile sportsbook skins, divided as follows:
Casino operators receive multiple skins.
- Affinity Gaming: Six skins
- Boyd Gaming: Six skins
- Caesars Entertainment: Six skins
- Century Casinos: Six skins
- Penn National Gaming: Six skins
- Bally’s Corp.: Three skins
Sports teams receive one skin each.
- Kansas City Chiefs (NFL)
- Kansas City Royals (MLB)
- Kansas City Current (NWSL)
- St. Louis Cardinals (MLB)
- St. Louis Blues (NHL)
- St. Louis City SC (MLS)
DeWitt said the coalition “would like to see legislation happen,” but each failed year brings added pressure to join the growing list of states with legal sportsbooks in the US. He added that he hopes discussing a ballot measure shows how serious they are.
Kansas City Royals Senior Vice President and Chief Legal Officer Adam Sachs echoed the sentiment.
“The Kansas City Royals are aligned with the coalition of professional sports franchises across the state and share the same frustration when it comes to the lack of progress in Jefferson City. We are open to considering a joint initiative petition campaign at some point soon.”
Potential legislative hurdles ahead
Hoskins remains the primary hurdle to overcome in the 2024 legislative session, which adjourns next May. He will term out in 2025, but others could pick up that battle.
The multiple hurdles to overcome or avoid include:
- Hoskins shooting down non-VLT sports betting legislation one last time
- The coalition not gaining enough signatures for ballot access
- A public vote rejecting a new sports betting initiative
- Other members picking up Hoskins’ battle when his term ends
While DeWitt, Houx and other legislators are on record saying that an initiative petition would pass at the polls, Hoskins referenced a Saint Louis University poll with only 35% voter support.
Future petitions could be tougher to pass, too, as state Republicans tried to raise the necessary participation to amend the state constitution from a simple majority to 57%.
‘A matter of when’
As we look to 2024, Hoskins appears to be the same immovable force as always. He will be gone in 2025, though, and the chances of legalizing sports betting will increase exponentially.
That is if all else has failed before that. DeWitt and the sports betting coalition remain optimistic about it happening in 2024, but they will have a lot of work to do to sway public opinion.
“We think it will happen. It’s just a matter of when.”