Lawmakers in the Show-Me State are taking another run at legalizing online sports betting sites, but some of the issues that blocked previous efforts remain and could reaggravate the debate.
The Missouri Senate’s appropriations committee met Wednesday and discussed two bills that could bring mobile sports betting to the state. However, one of those pieces of legislation would also create a legal regime for video lottery game terminals (VLTs), a sticking point during last year’s attempt to legalize sports betting in Missouri.
No action was taken on the two bills on Wednesday, but around two hours of testimony was heard from opponents and supporters. Some of that echoed arguments made last year during the debate on legalizing sports betting, which produced no changes to the current prohibition in the state.
Senate Bill 1 is the VLT-laden version of sports-betting legislation, sponsored by Sen. Denny Hoskins. While it would provide legal sports betting at riverboat casinos or over the internet, it is packaged with a proposal to let the state lottery commission implement a VLT system, a no-go for supporters of event wagering who run brick-and-mortar gaming facilities.
Cities with casinos have a "golden ticket," Hoskins said, which other parts of Missouri lack. Still, the senator added that he thinks those host cities could benefit more from VLTs at their truckstops and other locations than sports betting.
“I've been working on this issue for the last seven years,” Hoskins told committee members. “I've had bills that were just sportsbook only, I've had bills that were VLTs only, I've had bills that were just dealing with the gray gaming market, but nothing has made it across the finish line. It's time to get something done.”
Trying to join the crowd
Missouri is slowly being surrounded by states that have legalized sports betting, including Kansas, a fact that has put a few noses out of joint in Jefferson City. The ongoing success of the NFL’s Kansas City Chiefs, and the inability of Missourians to wager on the team, is another aggravating factor.
There are, however, several pieces of legislation now filed in Missouri that could alter the status quo, including the two bills in the Senate discussed on Wednesday. The problem could be disagreements over the inclusion or exclusion of VLTs from the legislation.
SB 30 offers something similar to SB 1 when it comes to sports betting, but it avoids the VLT issue altogether. The bill would permit the state's 13 casinos to have a brick-and-mortar sportsbook and to offer mobile wagering via three "skins" apiece, for which the casino operators could partner with companies such as DraftKings and FanDuel. Missouri's six professional sports teams would be entitled to a mobile sportsbook as well.
Bettors would have to be 21 or older to wager under SB 30’s provisions. A 10% tax on adjusted revenue would be applied as well.
“In terms of mobile sports betting, most illegal sports betting currently occurs online and via mobile apps,” SB 30 sponsor Sen. Tony Luetkemeyer told the appropriations committee. “In order to compete with and ultimately crowd out the illegal market, this bill allows for mobile and online betting options in a properly licensed and regulated environment.”
Here we go again?
Whether or not a sports-betting bill will pass in Missouri this year is uncertain. There is only a limited amount of time for lawmakers to pass something, too, as the regular legislative session typically adjourns on May 30.
But the VLTs, or lack thereof, will likely prove to be a contentious issue again. That was evident in some of the testimony offered on bills SB 1 and SB 30, as support for one sports betting-related bill did not guarantee it for the other.
“The VLT provision we opposed every year that they have been filed in either the House or the Senate and we're here to do so again today,” said Mike Winter, executive director of the Missouri Gaming Association, the coalition of the state’s 13 casinos.