The Missouri legislature completed another legislative session last week without legalizing sports betting.
With sports teams and casinos agreeing to language and Kansas putting pressure on its neighbors by passing its own sports betting bill, it appeared this year could be different.
But negotiations between state lawmakers and interested parties fizzled over the final two weeks.
In the aftermath of failing to pass a sports betting bill for the fifth year in a row, Sen. Denny Hoskins blamed the state’s casinos while the casinos blamed Hoskins.
PlayMissouri spoke with both parties to find out what really happened with yet another breakdown of Missouri sports betting legislation.
Negotiations with casinos break down in final days
Hoskins demands final approval of any sports betting bill. He’s shown the willingness to filibuster any legislation with which he doesn’t agree.
Hoskins tweeted Thursday, the final day of the legislative session, that lawmakers offered three different sports wagering bills.
He said all the pro sports teams, professional player organizations and mobile sportsbook operators agreed to the deal. But casinos refused, killing the bill. Later, he added that casinos’ greed was to blame for killing the bill.
“The gap in bill language expectations was too large to close through the negotiation process among the various interested parties given the time constraints in the final days of session,” said Edward Vought, policy advisor for House sponsor Rep. Dan Houx.
Hoskins contended the votes were there to pass sports betting on the final day of the session. But Sen. Dan Hegeman, who chairs the Senate majority caucus and sponsored the joint proposal from casinos and sports teams, wouldn’t call the bill for a vote without casinos on board.
“I think it had a chance to pass even without buy-in from the casinos,” Hoskins told PlayMissouri. “Sen. Hegeman said he would not bring up the bill unless everyone agreed to it.”
Video lottery terminals a hidden problem
In past years, tying the regulation of video lottery terminals to sports betting killed the legislation.
Hoskins has long argued that Missouri should regulate two gaming areas with sports betting and slot-like gray machines located around the state. Late in April, he proposed turning 5,000 of these machines into VLTs.
A week before session’s end, Hoskins offered what he called a standalone sports betting bill. It didn’t mention VLTs at all.
But language authorizing lottery-operated sports betting kiosks for parlay wagers included allowing for the “use of clerk- or player-activated terminals which are coin- or currency-operated.” Casinos balked at this as an attempted backdoor at VLTs.
Jeff Morris, vice president of public affairs and governmental relations for Penn National Gaming, told PlayMissouri that casinos rejected Hoskins’ final proposal because it included this same language as well as a two-year sunset on the law. That meant casinos could invest tens of millions to get sports betting up and running only to have the law rescinded in two years.
Hoskins contended that this language had nothing to do with VLTs.
“That language was for the parlays at lottery retailers, not VLTs,” Hoskins said. “The sports teams and mobile operators were all ok with making the investment in infrastructure.”
Morris said the casinos provided Hoskins with language they could accept that clearly defined what he wanted from lottery kiosk sports betting without the VLT opening. But Hoskins turned it down.
“We were hopeful going into and throughout the majority of the session that Missouri would join its neighbors to be among the now 35 states that have legalized sports wagering,” Morris said. “The bill that overwhelmingly passed the House gave us optimism. Unfortunately, things stalled in the Senate. So we will go back to the drawing board and try again next year.”
Looking forward to next year
Despite another unfulfilling ending, Missouri lawmakers and stakeholders did make progress on sports betting.
The final sports betting language appeared to have acceptance from industry representatives while bringing the added revenue Hoskins sought for state programs for education and veterans.
This language included:
- A tax rate of 15%.
- An annual license fee of $1.25 million.
- Up to three online skins for each of Missouri’s 13 casinos. One skin came with the initial license and each additional cost another $1.25 million.
- Sports betting kiosks allowing parlay bets at lottery retailers.
If the lottery parlay language proposed by Hoskins really wasn’t intended to open a door for VLTs, perhaps that issue can be worked out in time.
“I would not be surprised if something close to the hybrid language is offered when the next session reconvenes in January,” Vought said. “I would theorize that it should proceed through the House fairly effortlessly. That being said, I would not want to speculate on how the language could morph (or more appropriately metastasize) in that which has been historically described as the more ‘deliberative’ Senate chambers.”