Optimism Fades for Legal Missouri Sports Betting

Missouri sports betting has passed the state’s House of Representatives twice within the past three years. No sports betting bill has ever passed the Missouri Senate.

That doesn’t seem likely to change this year, either. At least not before the Missouri General Assembly ends its 2023 regular legislative session in a short nine days.

Sports betting legislation in the Senate apparently remains mired in debate over the legalization of some 20,000 now-unregulated video slot machines at truck stops and other locations statewide. Attempts to pass a straight sports betting bill that leaves out video slots regulation have failed (or at the very least stalled) the past two years, largely due to a vocal group of senators led by Sen. Denny Hoskins, R-Warrensburg.

Right now two sports betting bills – House Bill 556 and Senate Bill 30 – are being held up in the Senate with no vote in sight before final adjournment on May 12. Neither of those bills mentions video slot machine regulation.

The likely result? Another year without legal sports betting in Missouri.

Most Lawmakers ‘Overwhelmingly Support’ Missouri Sports Betting, says House Speaker

Missouri House Speaker Dean Plocher voted in favor of HB 556, sponsored by Rep. Dan Houx, when the bill passed his chamber on March 22 by a vote of 118-35. That was more than a month ago.

Today, HB 556 is lodged in the Senate Appropriations Committee. That’s where Senate leadership sent it on April 6 – the day after SB 30 was tucked back into the Senate calendar following an attempted filibuster and onslaught of unfriendly amendments, largely from those backing video slots regulation.

Kansas City Royals fans are eager for a sports betting bill to pass in Missouri.
Kansas City Royals fans wait it out as Missouri lawmakers are at an impasse toward a sports betting bill (AP Photo/Jay Biggerstaff)

Should one of the other become law, both HB 556 and SB 30 (sponsored by Sen. Tony Luetkemeyer, R-Parkville) would legalize up to three mobile sportsbook apps per the state’s 13 casinos, plus one mobile app per each of the state’s six pro sports franchises. Retail sportsbooks at casinos would also be legal in Missouri.

“The bill that we passed out of the House is a good bill. Representative … Houx is tirelessly working to see if the Senate can come to terms with what we think is good for Missouri,” Plocher, R-Des Peres, was quoted as saying by The Center Square on April 24. “I think that we overwhelmingly support sports betting to a degree that it needs to be regulated.”

Sen. Hoskins Holding Fast to Video Slots Issue

The majority of the senators behind the attempted filibuster of SB 30 support legalizing unregulated video slot machines, referred to as “gray games” because they operate outside the law. At the top is Hoskins who, so far, has failed to pass legislation of his own that would legalize both sports betting and regulate video slot machines.

Hoskins has been firm in his position that any sports betting bill passed by the Senate will also include gray games regulation.

In April of last year, he told Kansas City’s Cody and Gold unequivocally that sports betting legislation won’t pass in Missouri until gray games are state-regulated.

“Sportsbook is not going to pass unless some sort of version of VLTs (video lottery terminals, aka video slots) passes,” Hoskins said.

He seems to have kept his word.

St. Louis Cardinals DeWitt Reportedly Calls Impasse ‘Childish’

It remains to be seen if Hoskins will soften his stance in the few days remaining this session. Houx was reportedly working with Hoskins in mid-April to reach some sort of agreement on sports betting by May 12, according to an April 14 story on Missourinet. The site said at the time that Houx was “very optimistic” about ending the sports betting impasse this session.

An agreement has yet to be announced.

That has to be frustrating for Houx, Plocher, and Luetkeymeyer. It most certainly seems to irk St. Louis Cardinals President Bill DeWitt III, who has shown up at the Missouri Capitol a few times over the past two years to lobby for legal sports betting in the state.

DeWitt reportedly shared his exasperation with The Missouri Times in an interview published on April 20.

“We have an issue that is extremely popular with our fans, popular with the politicians, and it’s blocked because others want to hitch a ride on our wagon, and they have enough clout to bully their way onto the bill,” DeWitt was quoted as saying. “They won’t get what they want, but I guess they don’t care that we don’t get anything either. It is really childish behavior.”

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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