The Missouri Senate made clear Thursday that lawmakers want to do Missouri sports betting separate from video lottery terminals. And one Missouri Senator isn’t happy about it.
The Senate Appropriations Committee voted 11-1 “do pass” on SB30, the standalone Missouri sports betting legislation sponsored by Sen. Tony Luetkemeyer.
But a motion to do the same with SB1, Sen. Denny Hoskins’ bill combining regulation of sports wagering and video lottery terminals (VLTs) failed 2-10.
Hoskins has pushed combining VLT and sports betting for years and advanced it through committee in the past, even if it went nowhere on the floor. But this time the Senate seemed to take a stand with the overwhelming rejection of the idea.
Penn Entertainment vice president Jeff Morris commented to PlayUSA on the Appropriations actions:
“We appreciate the hard work of the Appropriations Committee to pass sports betting, which is a crucial step towards putting Missouri on a level playing field with their neighboring states. They also sent a clear message that aligns with the overwhelming majority of Missourians who want to keep video lottery slot machines off of every street corner in the state.”
Hoskins throws tantrum on Senate floor
Bills that don’t have the support to advance from committee usually aren’t called for a vote. But Hoskins insisted and wasn’t happy with the result.
When the Senate floor session started soon after the committee vote, Hoskins filibustered the usually procedural act of approving the day’s journal to voice his displeasure.
Hoskins read from the Missouri Republican Party platform stating that “the Missouri Republican Party supports prohibiting the further expansion of gambling beyond that already authorized.”
“In my opinion, video lottery terminals are not a current expansion and would actually be a reduction,” Hoskins said. “But sportsbook is definitely a further expansion of gambling, there’s no ifs, ands or buts around that.”
Upwards of 20,000 slot-like gambling machines currently operate in bars and truck stops around Missouri.
Hoskins held up the Senate for more than an hour before letting it go in with its business.
Constitutionality of VLT bill questioned
At the Senate Appropriations Committee hearing on the bills Wednesday, attorney Marc Ellinger presented his opinion that the VLT language in SB1 would violate the state constitution.
Hoskins previously spoke to PlayUSA about his passion for providing a permanent funding source for veterans’ homes and cemeteries. He told the committee that authorizing VLTs could provide up to $250 million for public schools, $31 million for local governments and $15 million for Missouri veterans.
However, Ellinger countered that the lottery provision in the state constitution expressly states that all revenue from lottery operations must go to education.
Hoskins’ bill tries to get around this by having the veterans’ funding come out of administrative expenses. But Ellinger concludes that lottery revenue share under SB1 is not an administrative expense.
Ellinger told the committee:
“We heard a lot of discussion about how the funds can go to veterans. That’s a worthy goal. I don’t think anybody disputes that veterans need funding, they’ve served our country and they deserve to be repaid in the most comprehensive manner possible. Unfortunately, the Missouri Lottery provisions in our constitution don’t provide for that.”
Lawmakers losing patience with MO sports betting delays
The Missouri legislature has considered sports betting legislation since 2018. Hoskins has filibustered attempts to pass sports betting without VLTs the past two years.
Rep. Dan Houx previously told PlayUSA that he believes the votes are there to pass Missouri sports betting in the Senate.
“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.”
Hoskins has stood in the way with his VLT crusade. In the meantime, the Kansas City Chiefs played in another Super Bowl, which showcased an undeniable demand for regulated sports betting.
Sean Ostrow of the Sports Betting Alliance representing major sportsbook operators told the committee that they turned away 250,000 attempts to bet in Missouri during Super Bowl weekend alone.
“Over the course of the NFL season, there’s been over 9 million attempts to bet,” Ostrow said. “Beneficiaries of this missed opportunity are the illegal market, which pays no taxes and kind of scoffs at regulation, and the states of Kansas and Illinois.”
Statewide polling released in January by Public Opinion Strategies showed that 58% of Republican primary voters oppose allowing VLTs in gas stations, convenience stores, bars and taverns. Only 32% support.
The demand for a legal way to bet on sports in Missouri and the rejection of VLTs by prospective Republican voters seemed to influence the Senate decision on SB1.
Missouri sports betting prospects still dim in 2023
Luetkemeyer’s sports betting legislation now moves to the Senate floor.
Also Thursday, the House Emerging Issues Committee advanced identical Missouri sports betting bills from Reps. Houx and Phil Christofanelli. The House first amended the bills to include player protections asked for by the major players associations.
The House likely will pass HB556 and HB581 over to the Senate.
Missouri sports teams, casinos, the City of Kansas City and the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry have all asked the legislature to legalize sports betting this session.
At Wednesday’s Senate hearing, St. Louis Cardinals President Bill DeWitt III told the committee:
“One of the downsides of the delay of several years here is that fans haven’t been able to do it and it’s a long, grinding process. However, one of the good sides is that we’ve learned from other states. We’ve learned how to tweak this to make it more reflective of the market that’s out there. And I believe the tweaks to this bill do that, so we’re very supportive.”
But none of that matters in Missouri, where one Senator can stop a bill cold. Hoskins told PlayUSA in December that he would filibuster any attempt to pass Missouri sports betting without VLTs.
His display on the Missouri Senate floor Thursday only reinforced the lengths he will go to block sports betting legislation without VLTs.
And he soon moved on to his backup plan of SB279. Interestingly, it originally was referred to Appropriations but changed to Transportation, Infrastructure and Public Safety in the afternoon Thursday. It’s a seemingly innocuous bill to add “sports wagering” to the definition of “games of skill” in Missouri law, which could get it through committee.
But there’s no doubt that Hoskins would then attempt to amend VLTs onto the bill on the floor. He’s played this game before.