Missouri’s hopes to legalize sports betting in 2023 died when the state legislative session adjourned in mid-May, but that’s not stopping the chatter.
Politicians, professional sports team owners, college professors and other personalities have shared their beliefs on several topics related to Missouri sports betting in recent weeks.
Unsurprisingly, everybody has an opinion regarding past shortcomings and prospects, including a new route to legalization that could come as early as 2024.
Hoskins continues to be greatest obstacle against legal sports betting
Legal sports betting nearly became a reality in Missouri during the last session of the Missouri General Assembly. Unfortunately, efforts to legalize Missouri sports betting once again fell short. Missourians must continue to leave the state to bet on sports.
Most shots fired after lawmakers failed to legalize sports betting were predictably aimed at Sen. Denny Hoskins. He effectively shut down legal sports betting by refusing to move forward with any bill that didn’t include legalizing video lottery terminals (VLTs).
VLTs are unregulated gambling machines found at gas stations, convenience stores and other businesses. They function like slot machines.
Most state leaders believe VLT and sports betting legalization belong in separate conversations. Nonetheless, Hoskins did his part to ensure an impasse, which caused Senate President Pro Tem Caleb Rowden to chide him at a press conference after the session concluded:
“He is solely responsible for why we don’t have sports betting in Missouri, no more, no less. So, either he finds more friends, or he needs to get out of the way and let Missourians be able to do this thing that they should have been able to do four or five years ago.”
Debate against VLTs being lumped in with sports betting continues
“VLTs has really been the acronym that’s been holding this up since 2018,” said Kansas City sports talk radio host Alex Gold. Gold correctly predicted that VLTs had killed all momentum on sports betting and would prevent it from becoming legalized.
St. Louis Cardinals President Bill DeWitt III colored within those same lines.
“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.”
Geoff Folsom of the eMissourian scoffed at the situation.
“Saying you can’t have sports betting, either through a smartphone app or in-person sportsbooks, because of sketchy games in a run-down convenience store is like saying you won’t allow Missouri to play host to a NASCAR race unless we address kids racing illegally in go-karts. Then again, we’ve also lost out on NASCAR races to neighboring states, so maybe that’s why.”
Pro teams eye ballot box to make sports betting legal
Missourians have another avenue for them should situations like this occur where lawmakers cannot get on the same page. The ballot initiative allows citizens to petition for new constitutional amendments. Enough support can bring about a vote requiring a simple majority to become law.
With 33 states (and counting) offering legal sports betting, Missouri’s two Major League Baseball teams – the St. Louis Cardinals and Kansas City Royals – expressed frustration with the state’s lawmakers and the potential need to take matters into their own hands by spearheading a b>petition campaign.
DeWitt confirmed the organization’s interest in the amendment route.
“We’re going to take a serious look at that. I think there are a few things we may push on here at the end. We’re just so frustrated. It’s working against our fans and our citizens who overwhelmingly support it.”
Royals Senior Vice President and Chief Legal Officer Adam Sachs agreed.
“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.”
Republicans working to make it harder to legalize sports betting
Missouri Republicans tried to put forth legislation making it harder to amend the State Constitution during this last session. Their bill focused on raising the required participation from a simple majority to 57%, an arbitrary number affected by other issues, namely marijuana and b>abortion.
Like sports betting, marijuana and abortion are polarizing topics. Recreational and medical marijuana have been legalized recently, though recreational usage would not have passed with a 57% requirement in place, as it received just 53% approval.
With sports betting and abortion remaining hot topics, leaders have already expressed their commitment to try again next year. The Republican platform opposes legal abortion and the expansion of gambling and is looking to do what it can to maintain each’s current status in Missouri.
Senate Minority Leader John Rizzo, a Democrat from Independence, wasted no time blaming the opposing party for failing to move forward:
“At this point, it seems the only way Missouri will see legalized sports wagering is to vote out the Republican majority or address sports wagering directly through an Initiative Petition. Unfortunately, the Republicans also want to make it even harder for voters to pass anything through Initiative Petitions. It seems no matter which way you turn, Republicans are there to stop the legalization of sports wagering.”
‘Lucy with the football’
Outside Jefferson City and various executive offices in St. Louis and Kansas City, the media had a field day with the circus that transpired during the last session of the General Assembly.
One editorial likened the entire situation to the famed scene from the Charlie Brown cartoon, saying it has a “Lucy with the football” feel. Lawmakers get Missourians’ hopes up each year, only to yank everything away at the last minute.
Hoskins’ final term ends in January 2025, meaning next year’s legislative session is the last for him to block sports betting. Even then, a team-backed ballot initiative route to legalization remains and has early backing from congressional members such as Rep. Dan Houx, who authored an identical sports betting bill that passed the House.
“I would definitely be supportive of it. I think it’s (legalizing sports betting) also something we need to do legislatively, but if we can’t get it done, it seems like the initiative petition process is the way to go.”