Push To Pass Sports Betting/VLT Bill Fails In Missouri Senate

Written By Matthew Kredell on April 29, 2021

A familiar foil derailed sports betting legislation in Missouri once again.

The Senate floor debated S 98 earlier this week. That bill authorizes retail and online sports betting for Missouri’s 13 riverboat casinos. It also authorizes video game lottery terminals in bars, truck stops, and fraternal organizations.

The floor debate showed that sports betting and VLTs remain at odds with each other. After Sen. Mike Moon attached a referendum clause requiring the bill to go in front of Missouri voters by a narrow 17-15 vote Tuesday night, sponsor Denny Hoskins pulled back the bill.

Hoskins provided a statement Wednesday:

“I am disappointed Senate Bill 98 reached an impasse on the Senate floor last night. However, I am not discouraged. I will continue to work with those willing to implement a regulated gaming environment and provide over $200 million in new revenue to education and veterans, in lieu of the unregulated, illegal market that exists today in Missouri.”

Why sports betting and VLTs are at odds in Missouri

Hoskins’ legislation was one of six sports betting bills introduced in Missouri this year.

However, his was the only one to advance from committee.

Hoskins has been trying to pass legislation to regulate VLTs for five years. However, the bills faced opposition from Missouri casinos. So he added sports betting to the bill to give the casinos something they want.

When two standalone sports betting bills came up in the Senate Appropriations Committee, he took over the hearing with his questions for Mike Winter, executive director of the Missouri Gaming Association that represents the casinos.

When Winter said Missouri should regulate sports betting to bring the current illegal market into the light, Hoskins pointed out that’s the same thing he is trying to do with VLTs. An estimated 10,000 of the gray-market machines operate unregulated in Missouri today.

Casinos don’t want the state to legitimize slot-like machines operating around the state.

“Missouri’s casinos and illegal game operators have refused to come to the table,” Hoskins said. “For them, it seems, the proliferation of illegal gaming in Missouri is not just an acceptable outcome, but an outcome that is preferable to regulation.”

Any hope left for sports betting in Missouri?

Rep. Phil Christofanelli told PlayMissouri that S 98 won’t make it over to the House, and it was a “fair assessment” that the VLT disagreement prevented sports betting legislation from passing this session.

The Missouri deadline for bills to advance out of committee already passed. However, if leadership wants to make a move it can always substitute sports betting language into an eligible bill.

And it just so happens that Sen. Majority Leader Caleb Rowden is one of the lawmakers who took an interest in sports betting and introduced a bill. There remains a chance for a standalone sports betting bill up until the end of Missouri’s legislative session May 14.

After this week’s debate, it seems unlikely that any sports betting bill will pass in Missouri this session. Winter called it a long shot and reiterated casinos’ strong opposition to VLTs.

“As long as that is part of the discussion, we’ll continue to oppose,” he said.

Hoskins doesn’t understand why Missouri won’t regulate and tax the two illegal forms of gaming going on in the state. He projects it could bring in $200 million in state revenue.

“I have impressed upon my colleagues that illegal gaming will continue to spread across our state until we take action to regulate it,” Hoskins said. “While many claim to want to stop illegal gaming, what has been louder than their word is their unwillingness to act. More pointedly, I am surprised by those who act to protect out-of-state special interests over the securities of their own constituents, veterans, students, and Missouri small businesses.”

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Matthew Kredell

Matthew has covered efforts to legalize and regulate online gambling since 2007. His reporting on the legalization of sports betting began in 2010 with an article for Playboy Magazine on how the NFL was pushing US money overseas by fighting the expansion of regulated sports betting. A USC journalism alum, Matt started his career as a sportswriter at the Los Angeles Daily News and has written on a variety of topics for Playboy, Men’s Journal, Los Angeles magazine, LA Weekly and ESPN.com.

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