Another year, another failed Missouri sports betting measure.
There are a number of reasons why Missourians will once again be on the outside looking in when it comes to legal sports betting. But they don’t change the fact that lawmakers once again failed to get the issue across the finish line.
So, looking forward, what needs to happen to achieve a better result next time?
Successful legislation starts with a simple bill
There was widespread optimism that Missouri sports betting would finally become a reality in the 2023 session of the Missouri General Assembly. Alas, all efforts fell short, so now supporters of legal sports betting in The Show-Me State must turn their attention to 2024.
Every Missouri state law must be passed by a bill. The state legislative process requires bills to originate in one of its two houses, the Senate and the House of Representatives.
Bills can be introduced for the first 60 days of a legislative session, beginning at the start of each year. After two readings to all lawmakers in that chamber, the speaker of the House or the Senate president assigns the measure to an appropriate committee within the respective house, where its sponsor presents the bill in a public hearing.
Several amendments can be made to the bill before passage by a committee. Once “perfected,” a third reading will take place before a vote. Depending on the originating house, a bill must receive the following number of votes in its favor:
- The Missouri House has 163 members, requiring 82 votes for a simple majority
- The Missouri Senate has 34 members, requiring 18 votes for a simple majority
Once a bill passes one house, it proceeds to the other and follows the same process, beginning with its introduction.
Hoskins and his push to legalize VLTs stalls passage again
A bill that passes both houses goes to the Governor’s Office, where it can be signed into law. Should the second house choose to amend a bill in any way, however, it will return to its original chamber with a request to accept the changes.
And this is where Missouri’s sports betting efforts have stalled.
Reps. Dan Houx and Phil Christofanelli sponsored identical sports betting bills in 2022 that passed through the House with ease, 115-33.
Then, Sen. Denny Hoskins proposed an amendment to legalize video lottery terminals (VLTs) throughout the state, ultimately filibustering on the Senate floor and creating gridlock that killed the bill. With the Senate unable to agree, the House found its hands tied.
This year, Houx and Christofanelli’s attempts gained even more support, passing 118-35, only to reach another Senate impasse.
Houx responded by getting creative and amending a Hoskins-authored Senate Bill to include sports betting, putting Hoskins in a position to choose between legalizing sports betting or allowing his other interests to die. While it was an ambitious move by Houx, Hoskins did not budge.
Show Hoskins the (sports betting) money
The Missouri Senate’s VLT saga represents the largest roadblock between Missourians and their ability to bet on sports legally. Several states legalize sports betting each year, so why are VLTs getting in the way in Missouri?
One word: Money.
Over half of the country has legalized sports betting because state legislators see the potential tax revenue that comes with it. Missouri lawmakers also see this but have struggled to agree on an acceptable tax rate.
Hoskins believes sports betting should be taxed higher than the proposed 10% rate. He also wants to tax VLTs at 36% in his proposal to legalize them alongside sports betting, saying it will raise $153 million in potential revenue to the state each year.
Competing interests also at play
VLTs and sports betting exist in different realms, namely regarding their potential regulatory bodies. According to Houx’s bill, sports betting is a game of skill, and VLTs are a game of chance.
VLTs operate in a gray area and operate under the radar at many small businesses such as bars and gas stations. Legalizing them would likely increase their presence, which could cut into the state’s retail casino industry.
As a result, Missouri casinos could lose more money from VLT legalization than they would gain from opening sportsbooks. They will almost certainly never get on board with legalizing VLTs, and neither will the sports teams that benefit from casino and sportsbook partnerships.
Getting past the Hoskins hurdle
Reps. Houx and Christofanelli understand the need to create legislation in everybody’s best interests, including the state, casinos, sports teams and bettors.
Future efforts, including a possible one led by St. Louis Cardinals President Bill DeWitt III, will continue to focus on legalizing sports betting separate from VLTs. If Hoskins wants to legalize VLTs, he will find more success in leading a different charge than tagging onto (or tearing down) sports betting.
Like sports betting, VLTs provide an undeniable opportunity to generate more state revenue. Their path to legalization would stand a better chance by riding sports betting’s momentum than by stopping it.
Either way, Hoskins’ time to cement his legacy comes to a close in January 2025. He has one more crack at being on the right side of sports betting history before term limits leave him on the outside looking in.