Sports betting has the votes to pass in Missouri this session, but it probably won’t.
Because in Missouri, the majority doesn’t always rule. One lawmaker has the power to kill the bill, and Sen. Denny Hoskins has shown the willingness to torpedo any standalone Missouri sports betting legislation.
Hoskins doesn’t want sports wagering without regulating video lottery terminals (VLTs). He filibustered a sports betting bill passed by the House last year and he tells PlayUSA that he’s ready to do it again.
There appears to be no end to the stalemate in sight in 2023, the sixth year Missouri will consider sports betting.
Missouri sports betting a priority for leadership
Rep. Dan Houx sees reason for optimism that Missouri sports betting can break through the quagmire in the level of support he sees from colleagues.
Houx sponsored the bill filibustered by Hoskins last year. He reintroduced the legislation this year as HB 556. A coalition of Missouri sports teams, casinos and sportsbook operators support the language.
“I’m hopeful because not only in the House but also Senate leadership said it’s in the top-five priorities to get done this year,” Houx told PlayUSA.
Houx felt his bill had the votes to pass in the Senate last year if Hoskins had allowed it to proceed to a floor vote. During the last election campaign, he thinks more lawmakers learned the importance of legalizing sports betting to their constituents.
“Colleagues told me while they were out campaigning, all they heard was people want sports betting,” Houx said. “We know our constituents want it. Now we just have to go out and get it passed.”
But Hoskins told PlayUSA that he is committed to tying VLTs to sports betting legislation in order to raise enough tax revenue for his priority of funding housing and cemeteries for veterans.
And Houx admits that Hoskins has the ability to stop any bill cold.
“In my talks with Sen. Hoskins, he understands where I stand and I understand where he stands,” Houx said. “He could kill or approve anything, so at the end of the day the fate of sports gambling relies on him.”
How one Missouri Senator has so much power
To understand how one man can stand in the way of a bill’s passage, one has to understand the filibuster.
Long a tool to prevent the passage of a bill at the federal level in the US Senate, the filibuster is less common at the state level. Essentially, to filibuster is to talk a bill to death.
Last year, when Houx’s bill was called on the Senate floor, Hoskins did just that. When lawmakers were going to vote down his attempt to add an amendment with VLTs, Hoskins stalled for hours. He shot the breeze with friendly colleagues and threatened that he had 153 amendments to propose for the bill.
Eventually, the Senate adjourned for the night and the bill died.
Hoskins told PlayUSA:
“The filibuster is definitely one of the tools that we can use in order to force compromise. I view filibusters as last resorts. And I’ve heard some people say, ‘Hey, those filibusters are just terrible.’ Well, I say it’s terrible if you’re trying to get something passed. But if you’re trying to stop a bad bill from becoming law, the filibuster is your best friend.”
What else happened during Missouri’s 2022 session
Sports teams joined together with casinos to push sports betting legislation in 2022. And Missouri engaged with Kansas in a rivalry over who would pass a sports betting bill first.
That led to the first Missouri House passage of sports betting. After Hoskins filibustered their bill, he offered a last-minute compromise to casinos that didn’t appear to include VLTs on the surface.
Hoskins says that sports teams and online sportsbooks agreed to the deal, but casinos refused. At the time, a representative of Penn National Gaming explained the bill included a backdoor opening for VLTs and that a two-year sunset for sports betting didn’t make sense.
Houx supported the compromise offer.
“I appreciate Sen. Hoskins coming as far as he did at the last minute and offering what I thought was a good deal to sports teams, casinos and mobile operators,” Houx said. “They just didn’t want to take it at that time. If they took it, we’d be working on a two-year sunset extension right now.”
Missouri Senator wants to avoid Kansas mistakes
One might think seeing sports betting up and running in Kansas could spark neighboring Missouri into action this year.
But Hoskins doesn’t think the Kansas start impresses anyone. Kansas launched sports betting in September and raised just over $1 million in tax revenue over the first three months.
“I think Kansas was just in such a rush to get sportsbook passed before Missouri that they gave away everything but the kitchen sink to the casinos. With the way the Kansas sportsbook bill was structured, the general tax payor in the state of Kansas is subsidizing the stakeholders, the casinos and others that stand to make millions and millions of dollars on sportsbook. Kansas basically just didn’t charge enough to operate sportsbook to even break even in the state.”
Hoskins’ argument for regulating video gaming machines
Last year, Missouri took $50 million from its general fund to go to veterans’ homes and cemeteries. That’s not sustainable in Hoskins’ view. Hoskins wants to set up a sustainable funding source from gaming, but sports betting alone won’t generate enough money.
“I think just from a financial perspective, as far as funding our veterans’ homes and cemeteries, sportsbook only does not do that,” Hoskins said. “And so, in order to have a dedicated funding source to provide that income to honor our commitment to our veterans here in the state of Missouri, it has to have video lottery terminals with it.”
When casinos argue to regulate sports betting because illegal sports wagering already is taking place in the state, Hoskins makes the same argument about video gaming terminals. He estimates between 15,000 and 20,000 VGTs currently operate in Missouri.
The difference is that casinos seek to eliminate the black market by legalizing sports betting. Hoskins’ bill would legitimize and reward the black market in the state.
And if regulating VLTs had support in Missouri, Hoskins would have already passed a standalone bill. He ties it to sports betting to try to ride the momentum that legalizing wagering has in the state and the country.
Hoskins’ interest in veterans comes from having a veterans’ home and cemetery in his district, as well as Whiteman Air Force Base. He also is a veteran himself, having served in the Missouri Army National Guard. His grandfather served in World War II.
“Veterans mean a lot to me and I want to make sure they have the resources that they need,” Hoskins said. “Currently, we have empty beds in our veterans’ homes because they don’t have the resources to operate at full capacity.”
A look forward to the 2023 legislative session
As the senior-most member of the Senate, Hoskins had the opportunity to file the first bill of the session. And he put sports betting and VLT legalization into SB 1.
The Missouri Senate addresses bills in order by number. That means SB 1 likely will come up on the Senate floor this month. But that’s likely just to clarify that opposition still remains for VLTs in Missouri.
Rep. Phil Christofanelli (SB 581) joined Houx in pitching the language pushed by sports teams and casinos.
And, showing the controversy of VGTs, Rep. Rasheen Aldridge filed HB 388 to make it so establishments offering them could lose their liquor license.
Although Hoskins’ SB 1 is primed to move first, it’s likely the House will again send over a sports betting bill to the Senate. And then Hoskins can pull another filibuster.
Why compromise isn’t likely in 2023
With standalone sports betting legislation running into an immovable object in Hoskins the past four years, could casinos decide to compromise on video gaming machines? No.
The reason is as simple as Hoskins’ math on the revenue. Sports betting won’t be a big money-maker for the casinos. They don’t see sports betting as making up for the losses they would take from allowing slot machine-type games around the state.
But casinos also don’t have to compromise. That’s because Hoskins is beginning his last term in office. By 2025, he will have termed out, clearing the path for Missouri sports betting.
In the meantime, Missourians looking to legally bet on sports would have to cross the border to one of the five neighboring states that offer legal online wagering for another two years.