The attempt to legalize Missouri sports betting finds itself at a familiar junction after passing through the House easily this past Wednesday.
Reps. Dan Houx and Phil Christofanelli’s identical bills, HB 556 and HB 581, passed 118-35, which is likely an accurate representation of how Missourians feel about legalizing sports betting.
Now, the bills move to the Senate, where they also figure to have enough support to pass. However, the process is not as simple as a democratic vote.
After passing House, could legislation die in Senate again?
Lawmakers in the House passed Missouri sports betting legislation last year, but it was killed in the Senate. Now, it’s déjà vu all over again, as Hall of Famer Yogi Berra once quipped.
Last year, Houx’s sports betting bill took the same route to the Senate. There, Sen. Denny Hoskins stepped in with an attempted amendment to add video lottery terminals (VLTs) to the proposal. His proposal failed to pass, and in turn, he filibustered for the remaining hours of the session to prevent the original bill from going to a vote.
Hoskins has threatened to do the same this year unless VLTs are part of the measure. They are not part of either HB 556 or HB 581.
VLTs take center stage in Senate
Hoskins remains fixed on including VLTs in a greater expansion of legal gambling and sports betting. This would be the third year Hoskins could steer legislation into a stalemate – an effective loss for sports betting in The Show Me State.
Before vilifying Hoskins, he makes several arguments for legalizing VLTs alongside sports betting, including regulating the already-existing 14,000 to 20,000 “gray machines” in the state. He actually wants to bring the number down to just 5,000 and tax them at 36%, a significantly higher rate than the 21% at casinos.
Hoskins claims VLTs will bring more tax money to the state for an activity already being conducted illegally statewide, much like sports betting. This money would serve as a self-sustaining means of funding veterans’ homes and cemeteries.
The state senator knows if sports betting passes without VLT legalization, it could leave VLTs in the dust, possibly for good. He will probably do everything he can to keep sports betting’s leverage in his corner. That could mean another filibuster.
Will Hoskins budge this year?
Last year’s attempts to legalize sports betting aligned Missouri’s representatives with its sports teams and casinos. But once VLTs entered the equation in the Senate, everything fell through. Hoskins alleged that the casinos looked at a regulated VLT market as a threat to their bottom lines, one that sports betting did not make up for.
Casinos aren’t the only ones opposed to legalizing VLTs, though. Others like Senate President Pro Tem Dave Schatz and Sen. Dan Hegeman wish to ban them outright, while Sen. Mike Bernskoetter attempted to strip out Hoskins’ amendment in last year’s session.
Matt Kredell of PlayUSA wonders if Hoskins will allow sports betting to go through this year.
“House passage of Missouri sports betting doesn’t mean much as long as Sen. Hoskins continues to block the legislation. There doesn’t appear to be any interest in legalizing VLTs in Missouri this year. So, the next two months are all about seeing if Hoskins will budge.”
Still, the Senate has no choice other than to try and work with Hoskins. Houx said they tried to send a bill that could be negotiated to make one gentleman (Hoskins) happy, including the possibility of increasing sports betting taxation from 10% to 15%.
If not in two months, then in two years?
As Missouri’s lawmakers look at another potential year without legalizing sports betting, its residents sit on the sidelines while more states join in. To date, 33 states plus Washington D.C. are operational, including many with smaller populations than Missouri.
While Hoskins may blame casino operators for failing to agree to his terms, time will prove a worse foe. Hoskins is in his final term as a state senator and will end his time in office in 2025. Even if he can stave off sports betting through that time, his battle seems likely to eventually come to a losing end.
In the meantime, Missouri can learn from other states’ successes and failures in legal sports betting. Whenever the time comes to take legal bets, Missourians will be ready to jump in on the action.