Missouri has lost its chance at legal sports betting for the fifth year in a row. A popular bill that would have allowed sports betting through riverboat casinos and pro sports teams was derailed before the 2022 Missouri General Assembly adjourned May 13. Many sports fans are disappointed – some are downright angry.
It’s a development that has some observers questioning if the Show-Me State may even lose one of its professional sports franchises after seeing yet another legal sportsbook bill die.
Gaming Today takes a look at where Missouri sports betting legislation has been each of the past five years since the US Supreme Court turned sports betting regulation over to the states in 2018. We will touch on why the state’s gambling laws are tied to 13 riverboat casinos – as well as the relationship between casinos and pro sports teams in the 2022 push for legal sports betting.
Four years ago this month, the US Supreme Court overturned a federal law (the 1992 PASPA) that prohibited states outside Nevada from regulating sports betting within their borders. Missouri seemed eager to legalize. By early April 2018, no fewer than five bills to authorize sports betting in the state had been introduced. One of those was SB 1013, sponsored by Sen. Denny Hoskins, R-Warrensburg.
None of the bills that year advanced very far, but the push for Missouri sports betting was just getting started. Hoskins, especially, would stay a fixture in the Missouri sports betting debate for years.
Four bills focused on retail and online sports betting tied to riverboat casinos were introduced in the 2019 regular session of the Missouri General Assembly. Three of the bills would have set the tax on adjusted gross receipts from sports betting at between 6.75 percent to 8 percent. The fourth – SB 195 sponsored by Sen. Hoskins – didn’t specify a tax rate. It instead would have allowed a sports wagering revenue tax of 21 percent by repealing a prohibition on the activity at riverboat casinos under Missouri gambling law.
None of the bills made it into law. But another year was ahead.
The year COVID-19 became a household word was also the year that no fewer than seven sports betting bills made it to the Missouri General Assembly. The legislation would have tied in-person and online sports betting to riverboat casinos, with most bills proposing a tax of between 6.25 and 9 percent on adjusted gross revenue. Hoskins sponsored one bill with a nine percent tax rate and another (SB 798) similar to his 2019 proposal that carried a default tax rate of 21 percent.
But momentum stalled somewhere along the way. Legal sports betting would be delayed at least one more year.
Missouri sports betting came back on the legislative scene in 2021 as the state grappled with continued economic slowdowns in the face of COVID-19. The bill was SB 98, and the sponsor was Sen. Hoskins. Sports wagering tied to the riverboat casinos with revenues taxed at 21 percent was part of the proposal. But so was another issue: the regulation of electronic slot machines known as video lottery terminals, or VLTs.
Regulation of thousands of illegal VLTs had perplexed lawmakers for years. More and more bills, like SB 98, were proposing regulation of both sports betting and illegal VLTs. But SB 98 lost momentum about two weeks before the end of session, when Sen. Mike Moon, R-Ash Grove, successfully amended the bill to put sports betting and VLT regulation to a public referendum vote. That sent legal sports betting in Missouri back to the drawing board.
And it wasn’t the last time the Senate would hear about VLTs.
The stars seemed to align for sports betting legalization in Missouri in 2022. The Missouri House in late March had overwhelmingly passed a bill (HB 2502), sponsored by Rep. Dan Houx, to allow riverboat casinos and up to six pro sports franchises to have sports betting partners. In-person sportsbooks and up to three online sportsbooks could be licensed to each of the casinos, with each team eligible for one mobile sportsbook partner. Illegal VLTs would be regulated, too, under changes proposed in the Senate.
Then it was 2021 all over again. On April 27 – the same day that SB 98 was derailed in 2021 – HB 2502 was hobbled by an amendment that would have stripped VLT regulation from the bill. The amendment was filibustered by Hoskins, but it was too late. HB 2502 would not be called to a final vote before session’s end May 13th.
Ironically, the filibuster may have been the only way to save the bill. According to Hoskins, he and Senate budget chair Dan Hegeman had worked together to include VLT regulation in the Senate substitute to HB 2502. Hegeman was handling the bill on the Senate floor.
Why Is Missouri Sports Betting Tied To Riverboat Casinos?
Hoskins was quick to call out “casino greed” for failure to get sports betting through after five years of attempts in Missouri. But Missouri’s riverboat casinos have plenty of say over gambling in the Show-Me State.
Gambling in Missouri is limited to riverboat casinos on the Missouri and Mississippi rivers, charitable bingo, pari-mutuel betting, and the state lottery. Games of “chance and skill” fall under state law governing the casinos.
That potentially puts sports betting somewhere in the mix.
The VLT Conundrum
What casinos do not want is regulation of currently illegal VLTs in Missouri. Regulation of these VLTs essentially means their legalization. That would force casinos to give up some of their control – and potential market share – as it pertains to video lottery gaming in the state.
It’s a position that leaders of some Missouri pro sports franchises empathized with when they teamed up with the casinos to support HB 2502 in the 2022 session. St. Louis Cardinals President Bill DeWitt III seemed to support the casino position and pushed for separate bills.
According to the Missouri Independent, DeWitt said during a hearing on HB 2502 in March, “Typically what’s happened in the legislature here is that sports wagering legislation has been combined with VLT legislation, which is video lottery terminals, slot machines, aka, and our friends in the casinos feel very strongly that any form of VLT expansion would harm their business and they and others have worked to kill those combined bills in previous sessions.”
Kansas Legalization And The Missouri Pro Teams’ Future
Some Missouri state lawmakers disagree with the casino position on regulation of VLTs. One of them is Hoskins, who filibustered the latest sports betting effort when a Senate colleague tried to pull VLT regulation out of the bill.
Hoskins was unequivocal about the need for regulation of VLTs in an interview with Kansas City 610 Sports Radio’s Cody & Gold on April 28.
“Sportsbook is not going to pass unless some sort of version of VLTs passes,” Hoskins told the show hosts. “We can’t all just be shills for the casinos.”
Now that Kansas has legalized sports betting (albeit already tied up in the courts), some wonder if Hoskins feels the same way. His tweet on May 12, the last night of Senate floor action before final session adjournment, indicates he is confident he did his best for sports betting last session:
We offered casinos 3 different bills on Sportsbook. The last offer was on 5/10/22 & all the pro sports teams (Chiefs,Royals,etc), pro player orgs (MLBPA,NFLPA), mobile platforms (Fan Duel,Draft Kings) agreed to the deal. Unfortunately, the casinos said NO & the bill died. #moleg
— Senator Denny Hoskins, CPA (@DLHoskins) May 12, 2022
The ball now appears to be in the court of the teams on what they – not necessarily Missouri casinos – will do next. The Kansas law creates a special fund to draw franchises to the Sunflower State from places like Missouri, creating concern about the possible relocation of the Kansas City Chiefs, for example.
What happens next is speculation. It is fair to say, however, that there may never be a better time for Missouri to decide on legal sports betting once and for all.