Missouri Sen. Denny Hoskins gets a lot of blame for the failure to pass legislation legalizing sports betting.
But for those who think it will be easy to pass Missouri sports betting as soon as he’s out of office, Hoskins says to think again.
“Am I the only one standing in the way of sportsbook passing? No, I am not. Do I get all the blame? Yes, I do. And that’s fine. It doesn’t bother me. But there are a lot of people who feel the same way I do.”
Sitting down with PlayUSA recently at the National Council of Legislators for Gaming States meeting in Denver, Hoskins asserted that he won’t back down from insisting to regulate video lottery terminals (VLTs) along with sports betting and discussed why he doesn’t think his sports betting obstructionism will affect his political aspirations.
Explaining the issue for sports betting in Missouri
The past two years, Missouri casinos and sports teams have jointly asked for the legislature to approve their plan for joining the other 37 states with legal sports betting.
Hoskins’ top priority is to provide funding for veterans’ homes and cemeteries. A percentage of casino admission fees go to that cause.
But those fees for everyone who walks in the door of a Missouri casino have decreased in recent years. As a result, the state has drawn from the general fund to fill the void.
Unregulated slot-like gaming machines are prevalent in Missouri gas stations, bars and truck stops. They operate in a legal gray area, with the legislature so far unwilling to regulate or shut down the machines. Casino interests blame the onslaught of gaming machines as the reason for decreased casino admissions.
Hoskins sees regulating gaming machines under the lottery as the way to establish a dedicated funding source for veterans’ homes and cemeteries. He wants casinos to drop their opposition of VLTs in return for sports betting.
“I think we supplemented our veterans homes and cemeteries about $50 million this year because the casino admission fees have dropped,” Hoskins said. “So that’s something for which I’ve been looking to find a dedicated funding source. The video lottery terminals would provide about $15-to-20 million of that dedicated funding source. However, sports betting would not provide any.”
Sports betting isn’t a big enough revenue generator to dedicate funding for the veterans’ causes. However, that’s the same reason casinos won’t accept sports betting as a tradeoff for legitimizing gaming competitors on every street corner.
Missouri sports betting causes tension in legislature
The Missouri Senate has a different procedural quirk than most states. Replicating the US Senate, one Missouri senator with a few friendly colleagues can derail legislation. It’s called a filibuster.
Hoskins and his allies have run multiple filibusters to stand in the way of standalone sports betting passage the past few years.
With more and more states legalizing sports betting, the tension boiled over at the end of last session as a few Missouri senators blocked sports betting passage despite a tremendous push from leadership.
Sports betting actually gridlocked the legislature in the final days after Rep. Dan Houx and the House attached his legislation to a Hoskins bill for rural businesses.
“Some of our leadership was trying to hold sportsbook over my head in order to get other bills passed,” Hoskins said. “They must not know me very well even though I’ve been there for 15 years because I simply don’t operate that way. I said all right, go ahead and kill whatever you want to kill then.”
Senate President Pro Tem Caleb Rowden called out Hoskins to the media. Missourinet reported Rowden saying:
“It is the responsibility of the people who want that, in this case, Senator Hoskins, to do his work and find 17 other people who believe in his position. Until that happens, he is solely responsible for why we don’t have sports betting in Missouri – no more, no less. So, either he finds more friends, or he needs to get out of the way and let Missourians do this thing that they should have been able to do four or five years ago.”
Hoskins’ responded to PlayUSA:
“Caleb Rowden has been critical of me being in the way and not passing sportsbook in the state of Missouri. I can be just as critical of him because he stood in the way of having a personal property tax cut in the state of Missouri. He decided he wanted to do a sportsbook bill instead of making it so Missourians don’t have to pay more on their 2007 Ford F-1 pickup truck today than they did five years ago.”
Missouri sports betting skeptics go beyond Hoskins
Hoskins terms out of office in one year. So there’s a line of thinking that casinos can just wait him out and pass sports betting in 2025.
Hoskins disagrees. He points to the scene in April when he took over debate of Sen. Tony Luetkemeyer’s sports betting legislation. Many amendments unwanted by casinos were added to the sports betting bill, including doubling the casino admissions fee from $2 to $4 and adding an online sports betting admissions fee.
And it wasn’t just Hoskins wreaking havoc with the sports betting bill.
“What they fail to realize is there were 12 other state senators that offered about 20 different amendments on the sportsbook bill before I really even offered one,” Hoskins said. “And so there’s a group of senators who have told me face to face, person to person, they believe the same thing as I do. Even when I’m gone, there are a group of current senators I think will continue to carry the torch and try to get a compromise bill, and not just let the casinos have their way.”
One amendment that did not succeed was attaching VLTs. The VLT amendment failed by an 11-20 vote.
But in Missouri, where one senator can derail a bill, Hoskins’ departure may or may not create an avenue for sports betting passage. Only time will tell.
Hoskins doesn’t plan to compromise in final year
Hoskins wouldn’t compromise on doing sports betting without VLTs when colleagues put pressure on him at the end of this session. And he says he is not going to compromise in 2024 just because it’s his last year in office.
He also points out that compromise means the casinos need to offer him something meaningful for veterans.
“I hope that it’s not a stalemate,” Hoskins said. “But until the casinos decide that they want to compromise, it’s hard to move forward with any legislation.”
Unless casinos and sports teams are willing to pay the 51% tax rate that sportsbooks do in New York, Hoskins said he doesn’t see how sports betting without VLTs can help the state. Missouri casinos and sports teams are seeking a 10% tax rate in Missouri.
“The casinos want their cake and icing and to eat it too. They want low tax rate, they want low fees and they don’t want to pay for any problems that sportsbook causes as far as compulsive gambling costs. And sportsbook doesn’t help any of my fraternal or veterans organizations in the state, it doesn’t help any of my small businesses, it doesn’t help any of our bars and taverns and truck stops that have some of the video lottery terminals already. Really what sportsbook does in the state of Missouri is it turns multimillion dollar companies into billion dollar companies, and that’s not something people elected me to do.”
Hoskins also pointed to two federal lawsuits against Missouri gray machine companies, saying their results could help his argument to regulate VLTs next session.
“I think it would have a huge impact on gathering support for regulating them if the court comes back and says that the gray machines out there are legal,” Hoskins said. “I think there would be tremendous momentum to enforce some regional regulations as well as tax structure.”
Initiative could be way around legislative stalemate
As the Missouri legislative session ended in gridlock, representatives of the St. Louis Cardinals and Kansas City Royals talked about possibly filing an initiative to bring the issue of legalizing sports betting directly to Missouri voters.
Three months later, the teams haven’t announced any initiative plans.
Hoskins said teams and casinos could go ahead and circumvent the legislature, but they might not like the results. Polling earlier this year from St. Louis University showed only 35% of Missourians support sports betting legalization.
“An initiative costs millions of dollars in order to get enough signatures and put it on the ballot,” Hoskins said. “Plus, according to SLU polling, sports betting in the state of Missouri is not very popular. So that’s something if sports teams and casinos want to do, then certainly they can do it. It takes a gigantic effort in order to collect enough signatures and then millions of dollars.”
Not worried about Missouri sports betting impact on political career
Hoskins plans to run for secretary of state next year. He’s not worried about how his stance on sports betting could be used against him in the campaign.
“As far as how my stance on sportsbook affects my campaign for secretary of state, I don’t think it affects it at all,” Hoskins said.
Interestingly, Rowden also is rumored to be considering a run, which could make sports betting a central issue if Hoskins stands in the way of passage again next year.
Although proponents for sports betting are loud, Hoskins said he thinks the majority of Missouri voters understand his stance on the issue.
“I’m going to continue to do what I think is in the best interests of my constituents and the state of Missouri no matter what office I’m running for. So me not bowing down and bending the knee to the casinos and giving them everything they want, I think is what a majority of my constituents want me to do.”