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VLT Issue Once Again Derails Missouri Sports Betting

Written By Matthew Kredell | Updated:
toy train derailment with words hoskins dashes sports betting legalization hopes

The Missouri Senate had a lot of sound and fury over Missouri sports betting legislation Wednesday. But it ended up signifying nothing.

After eight hours of discussion and five amendments passed, SB 30 never got called for a vote.

Sen. Denny Hoskins once again filibustered a Missouri sports betting bill when colleagues would not agree to include video lottery terminals (VLTs).

Bill perfection had been pushed back daily for over a month, knowing this would happen. Sen. Tony Luetkemeyer finally called SB 30 to the floor, leading to an extensive debate.

Video lottery terminals voted down by Senate

In February, the Senate Appropriations Committee advanced Luetkemeyer’s standalone sports betting bill. At the same time, the committee rejected Hoskins’ SB 1, which combined sports wagering and VLTs.

Wednesday in floor discussions with Sen. Karla May and Hoskins, Senate President Pro Tem Caleb Rowden encouraged them to bring VLTs to a vote.

“Everybody knows the basic variables of this issue and that VLTs and sports betting have been married together. My advice to you would be let’s take a vote and see what the will of the body is relative to adding VLTs to this bill. … There are, I believe, 18 votes unequivocally to pass sports betting. What I don’t know because the folks who have advocated for VLTs who have never let it come to a vote is if there is the broad support needed to get VLTs done.”

With 34 members of the Senate, 18 votes make up the majority needed for passage.

At one point, a Senator read the book President Reagan: The Role of a Lifetime for an hour to allow Hoskins to engage in backroom talks on including VLTs.

Finally, Sen. Nick Schroer proposed an amendment using much of the VLT language from Hoskins bill and changes added by May. The amendment would have allowed a maximum of three VLTs in bars, truck stops and fraternal halls. It failed by a vote of 11-20.

Legitimate Missouri sports betting debate on Senate floor

To open the discussion, Luetkemeyer laid out that all but one of Missouri’s bordering states have legalized sports wagering. He added that during the first week of March Madness, more than 372,000 attempted bets from Missouri were blocked in those neighboring legal markets.

“Many of these attempted sports wagers were ultimately made in other states or placed illegally. This means Missouri tax dollars are leaving our state to subsidize the budgets of states like Kansas and Illinois rather than keeping that money here in Missouri to support our schools. In order to keep Missouri tax dollars here, to eliminate the unregulated market of illegal sports betting and to protect consumers, we need to pass SB 30.”

Luetkemeyer offered a substitute increasing the tax rate from 10% to 12% and doubling the contribution to the compulsive gambling fund to $1 million.

Hoskins then questioned Luetkemeyer for more than an hour.

Hoskins brought up the following issues he had with the bill:

  • Doesn’t provide funding to his priority of veterans homes and cemeteries.
  • Low fees and tax rate.
  • Problem gambling contribution too low.
  • Inclusion of betting on esports.
  • Does not make eligible for a license the St. Louis Battlehawks, Missouri’s XFL team.
  • Does not regulate VLTs.

Many Missouri sports betting amendments offered

During the debate, Missouri casinos and sports teams backing the bill lost control of the legislation with some unfriendly amendments.

Missouri Senators offered 12 amendments, five of which were adopted. The amendments that passed:

  • Double the admission fee casinos pay for customers at their brick-and-mortar gaming facilities from $2 to $4. Allow annual adjustment based on inflation.
  • Increase the tax rate to 15%.
  • Add a $4 online admission fee paid by casinos for every two hours people bet on sports through a sportsbook app. Through a sub-amendment, Hoskins renamed this subsection as the Supporting Missouri Veterans Homes Act.
  • Allow Missouri-based RealTime Fantasy Sports to host peer-to-peer sports bets.
  • Notify professional players’ associations of any investigations into one of their players.

Luetkemeyer pointed out some of the many problematic issues with the online admission fee. The bill allows Missouri’s six professional sports teams to license sports wagering apps. All online sports betting servers must be on casino property to fit under the state constitution. But casinos wouldn’t make revenue from bets made on apps of sports teams.

“In the event that someone places a bet on the St. Louis Cardinals mobile sports betting app, a casino has to pay a $4 fee when somebody bets on the Cardinals app even though the casino is deriving no economic benefit from that bet?” Luetkemeyer said. “Does that make sense to you?”

An amendment from May to allow sports betting kiosks at bars and restaurants failed by a 14-18 vote. May, who supports VLTs, said she sought a way to benefit small businesses.

“I’m sick of everybody talking about casinos. They done made big money, and they done made big money off of VLTs too. And so they want to keep making money, but I’m not seeing no community impact from the money that they making. So why can’t my small businesses make money?”

The Senate also rejected amendments to include the St. Louis Battlehawks, an XFL team, remove the official league data requirement, and put the issue to a voter referendum.

Hoskins won’t accept bill without VLTs

Two takeaways from Wednesday’s marathon session:

  1. The Senate doesn’t support legalizing VLTs. The issue finally came to a vote and it failed.
  2. Hoskins won’t support a Missouri sports betting bill that doesn’t include VLTs.

Hoskins doesn’t care so much about expanding legalized gambling in Missouri. He wants a dedicated funding source for veterans’ homes and cemeteries.

Hoskins previously explained this interest to PlayUSA. He was in the Missouri Army National Guard and his grandfather served in World War II.

The admission fee increases amended into SB 30 would have provided more funding to veterans. Hoskins still wouldn’t support the bill because he believes there’s not enough revenue for veterans in sports betting. Legalizing VLTs would provide enough revenue to carve out a proper chunk for his priority.

Hoskins also offered an amendment to increase the compulsive gambling fund take to $10 million. But since that still wouldn’t have stopped his filibuster, Luetkemeyer pulled the bill back and returned it to the Senate’s informal calendar.

Missouri sports betting still has a (small) chance

This doesn’t mean Missouri sports betting is dead for the year. The House passed legislation similar to Luetkemeyer’s with HB 556 and HB 581. Those bills still sit in the Senate.

Lawmakers have until May 9 to find some solution to Hoskins’ opposition. But the Missouri Senate allows filibusters, and Hoskins once again showed that he won’t budge on preventing a Missouri sports betting bill from passing without VLTs.

Following last week’s passage in Kentucky, Oklahoma is the only state surrounding Missouri that hasn’t legalized sports betting. Progress is happening there on that issue, however, with that state’s House of Representatives approving a sports betting legalization bill.

Rowden pleaded to get a vote on Missouri sports betting. It didn’t happen on this day.

“Generally being agnostic to how it gets done, I do know, just as a seven-year veteran of this chamber, that the only way it’s going to get done is if we take a vote at some point. … My hope and desire at some point, just so that we stop embarrassing ourselves, is that we pass a bill that does something.”

Photo by PlayUSA
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Written by
Matthew Kredell

Matthew Kredell serves as senior lead writer of legislative affairs involving online gambling at PlayUSA. He began covering efforts to legalize and regulate online gambling in 2007 after federal passage of the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act disrupted his hobby of playing small-stakes online poker. He has since interviewed more than 300 lawmakers around the country and written extensively about online gambling legislation. He has led coverage of bills to legalize online gambling in most states. A lifelong Angeleno and USC journalism alum, Matthew started his career working as a sportswriter for a decade at the Los Angeles Daily News. He has written on a variety of topics for Playboy Magazine, Men’s Journal, Los Angeles magazine, LA Weekly and ESPN.com.

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