Sports betting and video lottery terminals might be able to take different paths in Missouri this year.
Rep. Denny Hoskins tells PlayMissouri that he has agreed to run the issues in different bills this year. However, he still wants a VLT bill to pass along with sports betting legislation.
For the past few years, Hoskins has tried to pass legislation combining the legalization of sports betting with allowing video lottery terminals across the state. He introduced Senate Bill 906 combining the issues this year.
But now he says he is willing to separate the issues for consideration.
“When talking to other sponsors of sports betting legislation, they brought up that they would like to see sports betting and VLT be separate but move at the same time,” Hoskins said. “So that’s what we’re shooting for right now.”
Casinos want separate but not equal
Missouri casino companies would be happy to have sports betting separated from VLTs. That’s why they worked with Missouri sports teams to get their support on pushing for a standalone sports betting bill.
But casinos aren’t interested in a compromise to pass sports betting at the cost of validating the existence of slot machines across the state.
“We’re just hoping the two can be dealt with separately and not tied together,” Schippers said. “In other words, each should be debated separately on the merits and voted on independent of each other.”
Hoskins also introduces a separate sports betting bill each year, but he pushes for the bill with VLTs.
Sen. Dan Hegeman, who chairs the committee in which Hoskins’ bill sits, also is a staunch opponent of legalizing video lottery terminals.
“My hope would be to see the two issues move separately,” Hegeman told PlayMissouri. “But the legislative process will have to run its course and ultimately that will be up to the will of the Senate and the Missouri House.”
Getting on the same page with sports teams
Hegeman is one of four Missouri lawmakers to file the language proposed by the sports teams and casinos.
“The proposal seemed like the closest to consensus we’ve had from the different groups since the issue came forward,” Hegeman said. “Since it was going to come through the Appropriations Committee, which I chair, I decided to file it.”
Hoskins was bothered that the sports teams and casinos didn’t talk to him about this language prior to seeking sponsorship of a bill.
“When the teams came in and met with me maybe two weeks ago and said, hey, we have a deal and another Senator had filed the compromise after I’ve been working on this for six years, that really didn’t sit well with me,” Hoskins said.
He’s asked the teams and casinos to come in over the next few weeks and explain their bills.
“I’ve been adamant that any language on gaming will come through this office. So I look forward to working with teams, casinos and other senators and colleagues that have an interest in gaming. I’ve done the research, been to the meetings and done a lot of behind the scenes work to understand stakeholder concerns and what other states are doing. I don’t consider myself an expert, but I definitely know the most of anyone in the legislature about gaming.”
Missouri’s gray game conundrum
Missouri law limits slot-machine play to inside casinos. However, bars throughout the state skirt the rules by offering pre-reveal machines.
Patrons can hit the button to see if they are going to win or lose before the turn. However, over a hundred spins or a thousand spins, the chance element returns and they essentially play like slot machines.
These games exist out in the open all around Missouri today, and the state makes no revenue and provides no consumer protections. In this way, they are similar to sports betting, which is why Hoskins has sought to tie them together.
Hoskins said there are estimates of 14,000 to 20,000 gray video terminal games in the state.
He wants to convert or replace these machines with up to 15,000 VLTs allowed at bars, truck stops, veterans and fraternal organizations. Hoskins’ bill provides the state 32% of the revenue with another 4% to local municipalities. Missouri casinos pay a 21% tax rate on slots.
State law requires slot machines at casinos to pay out at least 80% of the money put in. Gray games have no requirements.
“No one is regulating the gray games,” Hoskins said. “If it says you’re going to win twice out of however many times, you’ve got to take the company’s word for it that it will pay out. Regulating and taxing these machines is very important.”
To legalize or eliminate off-casino gaming terminals
Many Missouri lawmakers want to ban these machines from the state. Others, like Hoskins, want to bring them into a regulated market just like sports betting.
Hegeman and Senate President Pro Tem Dave Schatz are on the side of banning, making it likely that any attempt to combine VLTs with sports betting will doom the bill once again.
Hegeman has made it a priority to ban these pre-reveal games. But Hoskins doesn’t believe that will stop them.
“I believe a lot of these gray games already are illegal in the state,” Hoskins said. “So passing another law to make them more illegal I don’t think really solves the problem.”
Tying this complicated issue to sports betting keeps dragging down the bill. But Hoskins wants casinos to give something to get something.
“I understand the bill that’s been proposed is what the teams and casinos think is best for them,” Hoskins said. “And I want to make sure we have a bill that is best for Missourians.”
Next steps for Missouri sports betting effort
Hoskins expressed a displeasure that his bill has been sitting in the Appropriations Committee for a month now without getting a hearing.
Hegeman told PlayMissouri he is just waiting on the referral of SB 1046 to his committee to have a hearing on all gaming legislation. It’s up to Schatz to make the referral.
Hoskins does want to see sports betting legalized in Missouri.
“I think this will be my sixth year working on sports betting,” Hoskins said. “We’ve seen about 30 states pass sports betting bills since then. I’m hoping to get something across the finish line this year.”