The Missouri Legislature officially reached the level of insanity Wednesday as sports betting legislation hit a familiar obstacle.
Albert Einstein is credited as saying, “insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.“
For the fourth time, the legalization of Missouri sports betting and video lottery terminals (VLTs) are butting heads in Missouri. Every other year, the collision sunk both bills.
For the second year in a row, Sen. Denny Hoskins took over the proceedings when sports betting legislation hit the Senate floor and assured it wouldn’t pass without including VLTs.
Hoskins filibustered sports betting legislation on Wednesday night over an attempt to defeat his amendment to include regulation of VLTs.
House sports betting bill meets buzzsaw
The House passed two versions of the same bill, HB 2502 and 2556. On Wednesday, the Senate took up HB 2502, a bill introduced by Rep. Dan Houx.
Hoskins proposed an amendment that basically included everything the casinos and sports teams asked for with sports betting. However, he attached the regulation of video lottery terminals.
Sen. Mike Bernskoetter tried an amendment to Hoskins’ amendment stripping out VLTs. Hoskins grilled Bernskoetter for 45 minutes, hammering home that he understood few of the details in his legislation and repeatedly asking if the casinos gave him the language for his amendment.
Rather than let VLTs get removed, Hoskins stalled for a few hours until Senate President Pro Tem Dave Schatz adjourned for the night around 9:30 p.m.
Hoskins makes his point with filibuster
Hoskins kept referring to his filibuster book and said he had 153 amendments to propose to the bill if VLTs were removed.
That number represented the $153 million difference in the state tax revenue projected in his sports betting bill compared to the legislation passed by the House. His bill had a 21% tax rate compared to the 8% tax rate passed by the House. He also included sports betting kiosks allowing parlay bets at lottery retailers.
“I’m prepared to offer 153 amendments, one amendments for each million dollars in revenue that should go to education but instead is going to the casino bottom line,” Hoskins said.
Then he spoke for more than an hour with Sen. Karla May, another supporter of VLTs. As Minority Caucus chair, May said legalizing VLTs would help bars in her area, many of which are minority-owned. She added that she lives five miles from the Illinois border, where video gaming terminals are legal.
“These little places are owned by local people who live in the community,” May said. “… You put a video lottery terminal in one of those, it can be a game-changer for one of those little bars. And I like small-business game-changers.”
May accused backers of Bernskoetter’s amendment of trying to kill the bill.
“They know if they remove VLTs, we’re going to filibuster the bill, and so they’re just trying to kill the whole thing.”
But she said sports betting proponents will not get what they want without allowing for VLTs.
“You are not going to have one without the other,” May said “It is not fair for you to get what you want and then say you don’t like what I want when it’s the same thing.”
Same as it ever was for Missouri sports betting
Up until Wednesday, there was a hope that this year would be different for Missouri sports betting.
The sports teams joined with casinos to request running a standalone sports wagering bill.
Hoskins then told PlayMissouri that he had agreed to run sports betting separately, though he still planned to push for VLTs.
During the course of the committee process, he mostly kept his complaints to the fiscal differences between the sports betting components. On Wednesday before the bill came to the Senate floor, Hoskins told PlayMissouri he just had several amendments related to the tax rate and problem gambling funding. He mentioned nothing about VLTs.
But it does make sense why he wants to combine VLTs with sports betting. Both are gambling activities already occurring in Missouri that the state could regulate and tax. Hoskins said during his filibuster:
“The irony of someone saying that hey I don’t support 5,000 VLT machines but I support 50 million electronic devices being able to be used for sportsbook. So the largest expansion of gambling in the state of Missouri is sportsbook. So I support that, but I don’t support 5,000 VLT machines.”
Hoskins estimates that 14,000 to 20,000 gray machines operate in Missouri fraternal and veterans organizations, truck stops and bars. His amendment limited legal VLTs to 5,000 and taxed them at 36%, 15% higher than casino slots.
Casinos oppose legalizing the placement of slot machines outside of their facilities. Hoskins wants the casinos to concede on VLTs in return for getting sports betting.
Making things difficult for him, Schatz wants to ban the gray machines and opposes regulating VLTs.
Missouri sports betting isn’t dead yet
Although Hoskins might have killed HB 2502, there’s still an opportunity for Missouri to pass sports betting this session.
Now it’s evident why casinos and sports teams had lawmakers file four different bills with the same language.
While previous attempts have come down to the final days, there are still more than two weeks before the Missouri Legislature adjourns on May 13.
Now that Hoskins has shown his cards, perhaps an agreement can be reached between all parties.
But, for now, Missouri sports betting and VLTs are at a familiar impasse.