The Senate Appropriations Committee in Missouri met Wednesday to hear testimony on three gambling bills — two of which involve sports betting.
Sen. Tony Leutkemeyer presented sports betting bill SB 30, while Sen. Denny Hoskins argued for SB 1, which includes sports betting and VLTs. Sen. Karla May brought forth SB 194, which focuses entirely on VLTs.
When all was said and done, it was clear the committee was divided on sports betting and VLTs.
Super Bowl interest solidifies case for sports betting
Efforts to legalize Missouri sports betting failed in last year’s General Assembly session. But some of the lawmakers who filed bills to make sports betting legal in 2022 are back again this year. There are currently three separate sports betting bills in the House, along with three in the Senate.
Sean Ostrow, a lobbyist for the Sports Betting Alliance (SBA), representing BetMGM, DraftKings, FanDuel and Fanatics, confirmed that more than 250,000 Super Bowl betting attempts were made from online sports betting apps in Missouri. All attempts were blocked.
“It’s a significant loss for Missouri. Hundreds of thousands of people want to be able to bet on their favorite teams.”
Instead, gamblers continue to travel to Kansas or Illinois to place bets. Legal sports betting in Missouri would bring that tax revenue back home to fund initiatives within the state.
Key players representing major sports teams in the state expressed urgency in moving forward with sports betting legislation. Those teams included:
- Kansas City Chiefs
- Kansas City Royals
- Kansas City Current
- St. Louis Cardinals
- St. Louis Blues
- St. Louis City SC
Sports teams want VLTs out of sports betting debate
A major discussion point at this meeting was whether or not sports betting legislation should include legalizing video lottery terminals, or VLTs.
In the past, debate over legalizing VLTs muddied the waters on sports betting. Combining the two within one bill will likely create a major roadblock on the path to legalizing sports betting. St. Louis Cardinals President Bill DeWitt concurred, saying:
“We support the sports betting piece. As for the VLT piece, to the extent that it would make it harder for this bill to pass . . . we will not support it. Our position is that we’d like to see the two issues bifurcated.”
All the major sports teams in Missouri expressed hesitation in supporting legal VLTs if it results in conflict over sports betting legislation.
Missouri businesses voice support for legal VLTs
On the other end, supporters of VLTs didn’t really have a strong opinion on sports betting bills one way or another. The gambling devices have turned up at establishments such as gas stations and truck stops across Missouri but remain in a gray area legally.
Hoskins’ bill would tax sports betting revenue at 10%, while VLTs would be taxed at 36%. He noted:
“Each year we put off creating a legal option, the illegal industry grows.”
He estimates the slot machines would bring the state around $250 million in annual revenue.
Several restaurant and bar owners were present at the meeting in support of Hoskins’ bill. They said revenue from legalizing VLTs would give their businesses the financial surge they’ve been seeking since the COVID-19 pandemic.
April Kabrick, co-owner of Boozers Bar & Grill in Liberty, said legalization would level the playing field:
“This would be a game-changer for us. We can’t compete with other businesses that have decided to go ahead and implement the gray machines.”
Hoskins continues to stand by his decision to filibuster sports betting legislation if the final bill does not include VLTs. There seems to be a larger consensus that sports betting and VLTs should be separate issues.
Should sports betting initiatives fail again this year, major sports teams, along with the SBA, will likely attempt to bypass the General Assembly and put the proposal on the ballot.