For the second year in a row, the legalization of sports betting in Missouri is bogged down in the Senate of the state’s General Assembly. Despite a recent eight-hour session to get Senate Bill 30 to the finish line, legalized sports betting seems doomed for another year in Missouri.
The song remains the same in Jefferson City. The House overwhelmingly passed House Bill 556, which would legalize both retail and online sports betting. The Senate, however, has been unable to do the same with its version, Senate Bill 30, sponsored by Sen. Tony Luetkemeyer.
And just like in 2022, the issue of VLTs, or slots-like gambling machines, are gumming up the process. Some senators want VLTs and sports betting to be two separate issues, some senators want them paired together, and some senators don’t want to see any expansion of gambling in the state at all.
With the end of the session looming, hope is dwindling for sports betting to become legal in Missouri this year.
Senators debated sports betting for eight hours with no vote
With Kansas legalizing sports betting last year, optimism was high that Missouri sports betting would happen in this session of the Missouri General Assembly. It hasn’t happened, and now another border state has legalized sports wagering. Kentucky made online sports wagering legal in March.
Recently, senators in Missouri debated the issue for eight hours, but no vote was taken. Missouri House of Representatives Minority Leader Crystal Quade told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that the issue has now been moved to the back burner.
“It doesn’t seem like the Senate has any urgency to get it done. I do think there is still time, but it doesn’t seem to be such a big priority as it was at the beginning of session.”
There is now less than two weeks to approve sports betting legislation. House Speaker Dean Plocher, a Republican who represents Des Peres, does not expect passage this session.
“It seems the sun is setting.”
Issue of VLTs once again muddying MO sports betting waters
Not only is time running short to pass a sports betting bill in the Senate, but any changes made by the Senate would have to go back to the House for a vote. At least one change has been made. The tax rate on sports wagering was increased to 15% in the Senate, while HB 556 had it at 12%.
Then, there’s the issue of VLTs. These gaming machines, considered illegal by strict interpretation of Missouri law, are up and operating in gas stations, restaurants and bars across The Show Me State. Some senators desperately want to make them legal and tax them. Others, including casino owners across the state, want them banned and seized by law enforcement.
House Bill 556 did not address them.
Lawmakers like Sen. Denny Hoskins, who has filibustered twice to make VLTs part of the sports betting legislation, want VLTs to be legalized along with sports wagering. That has helped to bog down legislation to legalize sports betting, as most lawmakers do not think the issues should be paired together. A bill to legalize just VLTs, however, failed earlier in the session.
Sports betting has been endorsed by every professional sports team in Missouri, along with every casino. None of them, however, want VLTs to be a part of the discussion.
Politicians decry inaction on Missouri sports betting
According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Senate President Caleb Rowden, a Republican who represents Columbia, called the Senate’s failure in passing sports legislation “embarrassing.”
“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.”
Senator Karla May, a Democrat who represents St. Louis, agreed.
“I’ve been down this road before. 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.”
Representative Ashley Aune, a Democrat who represents Kansas City, seems perplexed by the stalemate.
“This is something that seems so simple. Our constituents genuinely don’t understand why we haven’t gotten it across the finish line yet,”
Representative Phil Christofanelli, a Republican representing St. Peters, echoed Aune.
“Quite frankly, we’re looking a little silly.”
One Missouri lawmaker, Sen. Chris Trent, might be looking to next session to get a sports wagering bill passed.
“I think the only way we resolve this is to keep talking to each other.”