The legalization of Missouri sports betting just can’t turn the corner. And, not surprisingly, it’s about money.
Even with top political leaders from both sides of the isle pushing for the legalization of sports betting in the state — a lucrative chance to generate large amounts of tax revenue for a state that falls right around the middle of the pack in total state tax revenue at $15 billion a year — the effort can’t get over the hump.
Last week, it got even uglier.
Marathon legislative session ends without a vote
Before Wednesday’s eight-hour legislative session kicked off, it was expected that the Senate would pass the bill to move forward with Missouri sports betting if it were taken up for a vote.
Instead, there was an exhausting discussion around legalizing sportsbooks in the state that included multiple proposed changes to what was already in place — plus some debate over video lottery terminals (VLTs) being included. It even featured a reading from a book about Ronald Reagan.
This was all thanks to a filibuster led by Sen. Denny Hoskins that included more than a dozen proposed amendments and a recital of the Reagan biography, “The Role of a Lifetime.”
Hoskins did this to try and advance his own sponsored sports betting legislation from last year. That bill included video lottery terminals remaining legal while being regulated in a similar manner to sports betting.
Some state lawmakers have been vocal about their desire to keep VLTs regulated separately. Casinos, which will benefit significantly when sports betting becomes legalized, are opposed to VLTs and their legality throughout the state at places like gas stations and other non-casino establishments.
State leaders that aren’t yet in agreement on the legalization want higher taxes, but there are also some concerns with VLTs. Many VLTs are scattered across the state and, according to some politicians, don’t generate the revenue they should.
Leaders and stakeholders agree Missouri sports betting is coming
More discussion and debate have been prolonging the inevitable: Missouri will eventually join all of its neighboring states by offering legal sports betting while generating much-needed tax revenue for the state in the process.
“I’ve been down this road before,” Sen. Karla May said during another lengthy legislative session. “I’m OK with sports betting. I think we should have it. The problem is the Legislature is so stubborn and so controlled by special interests.”
The St. Louis-based Democrat isn’t alone with that opinion either. Sen. Caleb Rowden echoed her sentiments.
“I’m ready to get sports betting done. I don’t think this is a partisan issue. We’ve just kind of been spinning our wheels.”
Professional sports teams like the St. Louis Cardinals and Kansas City Royals, in addition to a group of national casino brands, are pushing for legalization. Gov. Mike Parson planned to meet with with leaders of both franchises last week.
Even with the Missouri House approving its push to legalize sports betting throughout the Show-Me State, the Senate bill — SB 30 — can’t seem to find its way out. If it does eventually make it out of the Senate, the path would be clear for Missouri sports betting to launch, likely in the same year.
But it’s looking unlikely given clear-cut differences in opinion for what should and shouldn’t be in the bill. This legislation has been hacked up and altered significantly, then ultimately shelved with no real timeline for revisiting it.
This same thing happened last year.
The financial benefits of legal sports betting in Missouri
VLTs aside, it’s not just online sports betting that would be legalized throughout Missouri. There would also be retail sportsbooks at casinos and near pro sports venues, making wagering that much more available across Missouri.
Online sports betting will certainly be a big revenue driver if — or when — it gets approved. According to GeoComply, which tracks the location of wagering attempts placed via mobile phone, Missourians attempted to place 8.7 million bets in other states where gambling is legal. All of those attempts, of course, were blocked.
It’s estimated that, in total from mobile and retail bets, the legalization of Missouri sports betting would generate roughly $30 million in its first full year. Each of the cities that host casinos would earn more than $3 million annually as well.
Most of that would be generated through taxes on bets. That tax rate was recently increased to 15% by an amendment sponsored by Sen. Lauren Arthur.
There would also be $1 million set aside to battle compulsive gambling and addiction. Hoskins recently called out that number as being far too low, compared to what other states are spending on the same issues.
The Missouri legislature adjourns on May 5, and a vote is currently not scheduled. The bill, since being gutted and drastically redesigned, now has no legitimate timetable.