JEFFERSON CITY — The Missouri House executed a last-minute, long-shot parliamentary play Tuesday in hopes of breaking a logjam that has kept the state from legalizing sports betting.
With four days left before the Legislature is scheduled to adjourn, the Republican-led House attached an amendment legalizing betting on college and professional athletic events to an unrelated bill sponsored by the senator who has erected roadblocks to its passage.
The revamped legislation was approved on a narrow 83-65 vote.
Rep. Dan Houx, R-Warrensburg, said he hoped the maneuver would force a vote in the Senate and show Missouri voters that members of the House have been listening to the clamor for sports betting.
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“This is just an opportunity to place this on another a bill,” Houx said. “I know it’s not going to make everybody happy.”
A lack of movement on sports betting comes as nearly all states surrounding Missouri have legalized the practice after the Supreme Court lifted a prohibition on it in 2018.
The House has sent the Senate sports gambling bills for the past two sessions, only to see them tied to the vexing issue of illegal slot machines by Sen. Denny Hoskins, R-Warrensburg, who wants to rid the state of the machines and replace them with state-regulated and taxed video poker machines.
After the vote, Hoskins expressed skepticism that the House gambit would work.
“The bill that the House passed is definitely not a slam dunk. The House put a lot of love into the bill, and they might have loved it to death,” Hoskins said.
Despite the long odds, Houx’s idea had bipartisan support in the House.
“I love to see you trying to keep it alive,” said Rep. Ashley Aune, D-Kansas City.
Others were skeptical.
Rep. Peter Merideth, D-St. Louis, suggested the move was merely a way to poke at Hoskins and said it may not meet constitutional muster.
Merideth said sports betting has little to do with the underlying measure. The proposed Missouri Rural Workforce Development Act is designed to give investors tax credits for investing in rural businesses in the state.
It appears to have been written to involve at least one Missouri developer, Jeffrey E. Smith of Columbia, who is participating in a similar program in Georgia.
Smith’s company is represented in the Capitol by lobbyist John Bardgett and three members of his firm. Bardgett also represents the St. Louis Cardinals.
The ongoing failure of lawmakers to legalize wagering on sports events has left the Cardinals, the Kansas City Royals and other professional sports teams pondering whether to pour millions of dollars into a statewide ballot initiative seeking to make it legal.
Last week, Cardinals President Bill DeWitt III told the Post-Dispatch that the baseball team is “going to take a serious look at that.”
The issue has not come up on the Senate floor for a month and most observers say the issue is dead for the year.
The amendment approved by the House Tuesday would allow the state’s 13 casinos to offer customers three betting platforms with a limit of six per casino company. Each of the major league sports teams could contract with a platform to offer betting in an area near the stadium, such as Ballpark Village in the case of the Cardinals.
Betting, which also could be done on a mobile device, would be limited to adults. The state would collect a 15% tax on wagers.
Estimates show the plan could generate an estimated $30 million for the state in its first full year of operation. That money would be earmarked for education. Cities that are home to casinos would receive an estimated $3.2 million.
The measure also sets aside $1 million to combat compulsive gambling.
The legislation is Senate Bill 92.
Kurt Erickson • 573-556-6181 @KurtEricksonPD on Twitter email@example.com