“I’ll be an obstructionist until I get my way.”
So says Missouri state Sen. Denny Hoskins about his years-long efforts to block sports betting from becoming legal in Missouri. Hoskins has successfully used the filibuster in the last two General Assembly sessions to block all attempts to legalize sports wagering.
His colleagues are frustrated, sports team officials are angry, and Missourians are forced to travel out of the state to make a simple wager on a ball game.
Hoskins says he’s waiting for “the right bill.” Which, to him, is one that includes the legalization of video lottery terminals.
Hoskins demands action on VLTs
Last year, Hoskins was unable to include video lottery terminals, or VLTs, in sports betting legislation. When fellow lawmakers refused to consider VLTs connected to Missouri sports betting, Hoskins led an hours-long filibuster to halt voting on a sports betting bill that had passed the House.
This year was what the great Yogi Berra once said: “It’s like déjà vu all over again.” Hoskins was able to kill sports betting again April 5 using the filibuster after lawmakers rejected his VLT bill.
Video lottery terminals are essentially slot machines that exist outside of casinos in places like gas stations, bars, restaurants and truck stops. They are in a legal “gray” area of Missouri law. Casinos in the state especially want them banned.
On Feb 20, Hoskins penned a report where he outlined just how impactful he feels regulating VLTs could be.
“It’s estimated there are more than 20,000 unregulated gaming devices currently in operation in our state. These machines are completely unregulated and they contribute no tax revenue to the state of Missouri. By contrast, regulated video lottery games could generate more than $250 million in state revenue each year, with the money going directly to Missouri schools and veterans homes.”
This is why Hoskins is fighting to include regulatory language for VLTs in a sports betting bill. Another of Hoskins’ reasons for his pushback is the lack of funding for small businesses and veterans.
“Sportsbook will bring zero dollars into our small businesses, and sportsbook doesn’t bring any money into our veterans’ homes and cemeteries.”
The sports betting bill that made it out of the Missouri House established a tax of 10%. Hoskins’ sports betting bill proposes a 21% tax. It could generate up to $163 million for the state, according to a legislative fiscal note.
Lawmakers frustrated; refuse to connect MO sports betting to VLTs
Other lawmakers disagree with including VLTs in a bill to legalize sports betting. They feel strongly that it should be a separate issue.
Unfortunately, Hoskins isn’t budging either. He does hold out some hope, though.
“We’ll see if we can work through those concerns that I have to make sure that it’s not just the casinos getting rich and everyone else getting hurt here in the state before we pass it.”
Hoskins’ actions have frustrated colleagues, such as Senate Majority Leader Cindy O’Laughlin, who took issue with the lack of decorum. She called his actions “political theater.”
“Either we are going to have a Senate that is respected and stands on tradition, or we’re going to have something like mud wrestling, which is about what we’ve had for the last couple of years.”
Missouri Rep. Dan Houx has been on the wrong side of Hoskins’ filibusters. Houx has been leading the push to legalize sports wagering in Missouri both this year and last. When his bill was stopped in the Senate, Houx even attempted to add language to Hoskins’s own bill to pry a vote out of them.
“This is just an opportunity to place this on another bill. I know it’s not going to make everybody happy.”
Missouri Senate President Pro Tem Caleb Rowen also spoke on the frustration of dealing with Hoskins’ obstructions over the years.
“Potentially we still have the same general set of problems in the Senate, which is really just one person. But obviously that person is still there.”
Is there a way around Hoskins?
After Hoskins’ obstruction the past couple years, lawmakers and stakeholders are looking for new ways to bring sports betting to Missouri.
The easiest route to legal sports betting in Missouri would be Hoskins easing up on his stance, but many are finding that a hard option to have faith in. Now, a new plan is taking form.
The St. Louis Cardinals are considering leading a ballot initiative that, if successful, could let voters in Missouri choose if they want sports betting. Cardinals President Bill DeWitt III told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that option is already being considered.
“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.”
The Kansas City Royals are considering that same action, as the team’s chief legal officer Adam Sachs said in a statement.
“(The Kansas City Royals are) aligned with the coalition of professionals 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.”
In order to start a ballot initiative in Missouri, it first must be written and submitted to the Secretary of State’s Office. The initiative is then sent to the attorney general for review and the state auditor for fiscal analysis.
Once approved, petitioners can begin to collect signatures. The number of signatures required is 8% of however many votes were cast for the governor in the most recent election, which would be around 170,000 depending on which districts are targeted for signature collection. Petitioners must collect signatures from at least two-thirds of the state districts.
The deadline to collect signatures is six months prior to the election, which would be May 5, 2024, if the hope is to get sports betting on the 2024 ballot.