JEFFERSON CITY — Missouri residents who want to legally bet on sports will have to head for the borders to cast their wagers.
While six of Missouri’s eight neighboring states — Arkansas, Illinois, Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa and Tennessee — have legalized wagering, efforts to follow suit in the Show-Me State once again floundered in the Legislature.
When the General Assembly adjourned for the year last week, a high-profile push by six of the state’s professional sports teams and most of Missouri’s 13 casinos ended with a thud.
Trade groups that had lobbied for the legislation expressed disappointment, saying legal sports betting would have brought tax revenue to the state and consumer protections for Missourians.
“With sports betting now legal in Kansas and other neighboring states, Missouri has become a virtual island. But it won’t stop Missourians from betting. Residents will just travel out of state, or worse, place a misguided trust with illegal, offshore websites,” said John Pappas, state advocacy director for iDEA Growth, an online gaming industry group.
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The teams, including the St. Louis Cardinals, the St. Louis Blues and the St. Louis City soccer club, had brought their lobbying power and a new approach to the issue during the 2022 legislative session after three previous attempts to launch sports betting failed.
Rather than a package of legislation that was tied to a contentious bid to rid the state of illegal slot machines that now populate gas stations and liquor stores, a plan emerged that would focus solely on bringing sports betting windows to casinos and to locations at the professional stadiums, as well as on online platforms like DraftKings and FanDuel.
“I’ve always been a believer that sports betting and video lottery are two separate issues,” said Rep. Dan Houx, R-Warrensburg, who sponsored the House version of the bill.
The House acted quickly, approving an outline that included an 8% tax on wagers and licensing fees that would be paid by the casinos and teams.
In the Senate, the plan ran into familiar roadblocks.
Sen. Denny Hoskins, R-Warrensburg, blocked the House version when it was brought up for debate in the Senate, arguing that gambling expansion must also address video lottery terminals.
“You’re not going to have one without the other,” Sen. Karla May, a St. Louis Democrat, said during a late April debate.
But under Hoskins’ version, the illegal slot machines operated by politically connected companies like Torch Electronics would have been banned if they are operating in places that also sell Missouri Lottery products.
Enter Sen. Mike Moon, R-Ash Grove, who has received more than $15,000 in campaign contributions from political action committees linked to Torch’s high-powered lobbyist, former House Speaker Steve Tilley.
When a separate amendment was introduced attempting to address the spread of the so-called “gray machines” operated by Torch, Moon launched into a filibuster, signaling doom for any attempt to find a compromise in the waning hours of the Senate’s session.
A last-ditch effort to reach an agreement faltered.
That puts the issue back in the mix for the 2023 session, with a new set of players following the departure from the Legislature of sports betting advocates and opponents.
Houx said he and Hoskins have pledged to work over the summer to find a path forward. He said not getting Hoskins on board in the beginning may have been a tactical mistake.
“I would have rather gotten Senator Hoskins involved earlier on to try and get everyone to the table at the beginning,” Houx said.
There is another potential route that could be taken.
The sports teams had filed paperwork in October to try and put the matter before voters in November, but did not begin the signature collection process on the belief that a compromise plan would emerge from the Legislature.
That effort is dead for the year, but could resurface next year if the teams and casinos believe the issue cannot be resolved by lawmakers.
“We are hopeful lawmakers and stakeholder will do what’s right and agree to pass a law next legislative session,” Pappas said.