Massive State Budget Surplus, VLTs Haunt Missouri Sports Betting Chances

Missouri sports betting is taking a back seat to state budget talks in Jefferson City this week. And just in case you were wondering — no, the state doesn’t need sports betting revenue. 

The Show-Me State has a $6 billion surplus ahead of its new fiscal year starting July 1 and plans to cut taxes this session to prove it. It made good on a similar promise last October when Gov. Mike Parson signed an $800 million income tax cut into law. 

What’s uncertain is if a flush state treasury impacts any chance at passage of sports betting bills now pending action in the Missouri Senate. Those bills have been weighed down by a continued push by some lawmakers to add regulation of now illegal video slot machines (also referred to as video lottery terminals or VLTs) to sports betting legislation this spring. 

HB 556 and Economic Development

Rep. Dan Houx, R-Warrensburg, is the sponsor of House Bill 556, one of the two key sports betting bills now pending action in the Senate. He stood beside House Speaker Dean Plocher, R-Des Peres, at a press conference after HB 556 passed the lower chamber by a landslide 118-35 vote on March 22.

Plocher is in his first year as Speaker of the House and is reportedly behind both a second round of tax cuts and legal sports betting this session.

A 10-percent tax rate on wagers in HB 556 shows that Houx wants a regulated sports betting market, with some revenue to the state. But he isn’t pushing for a higher rate.  The Warrensburg lawmaker had actually proposed a tax rate of just eight percent in past years. 

Houx seems focused more on economic development when he talked about HB 556 on the regional radio show  “Wake Up Mid-Missouri” last month.

“It’s mostly the residual revenue we’re losing,” Houx said on the radio show. “When people go to Kansas or Illinois or Iowa, wherever they go and they spend money … that’s (the) revenue we’re really missing out on.” 

VLTs No Longer an Issue? 

Houx is reportedly optimistic that sports betting will make it through to the governor by the end of the current legislative session on May 12, according to an April 14 story on Missourinet. The senator is reportedly working with Sen. Denny Hoskins — a diehard supporter of regulation of now illegal video slots machines called “gray games” — to come to an agreement that would separate sports betting from the slots issue, according to the April 14 article.

“We had a meeting this week,” Houx reportedly told the news site. “I’m very optimistic that we’re going to come to an agreement to get it done. As everybody knows, it’s kind of been hinging on Senator Hoskins, so I’m going to keep working on it. That’s where we’re at.”

It was April 5 when Hoskins and a small group of fellow senators united to kill Senate Bill 30, this session’s other favored sports betting bill.  That bill was placed back on the calendar for a potential future vote amid opposition.  SB 30 is similar to HB 556 except for its proposed 15-percent tax on sports betting revenue. Neither bill propose video slots regulation. 

Most of the senators who opposed SB 30 on the floor have historically been supportive of legalizing now-unregulated video slot machines and sports betting as part of the same bill. The video slots (which number in excess of 20,000 by some accounts) are referred to as gray games because they operate in a gray legal area.

Houx was quoted by Missourinet as saying he believes the video slots debate is over this session. That would certainly put HB 556 or SB 30 in a better position for final passage, time permitting.

“Everybody wants sports gambling. They don’t want — or they haven’t talked about VLTs,” Houx was quoted as saying by the news site. 


About the Author
Rebecca Hanchett

Rebecca Hanchett

Legislative Writer
Based in Kentucky's Bluegrass region, Rebecca Hanchett is a political writer who covers legislative developments at Gaming Today. She worked as a public affairs specialist for 23 years at the Kentucky State Capitol. A University of Kentucky grad, Hanchett has been known to watch UK. basketball from time to time.

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