Missouri‘s House on Wednesday approved a pair of sports betting bills on second reading that would allow for statewide mobile wagering, but not before taking some time to jab at neighboring states. The bills must get a third approval in the House (likely Thursday) — which stakeholders say should be no problem — and will then move on to the Senate, where key members are at odds over what sports betting should look like.
Legislators lowered the tax rate on wagering to 8% on the floor in an effort to be “better than Kansas” and also added additional guardrails around problem and responsible gambling.
Missouri lawmakers have been considering sports betting since 2018, when the U.S. Supreme Court made it a states’ rights issue, but this is the first year that lawmakers have tried a new path, putting forth legislation that has the backing of the state’s casinos and professional sports teams, all of which would be able to offer some sort of wagering. In addition, lawmakers in both chambers have separated sports betting from video lottery terminals, or “gray machines,” though there are VLT bills in Jefferson City that could move forward as well.
Taking aim at Illinois, Kansas
During debate, representatives did a lot of back patting on getting to the point of having a bill that could pass, but they also made clear their feelings on surrounding states. Unfortunately, during floor sessions, lawmakers are not always easily identifiable. Some tidbits:
- On Illinois, which launched retail wagering in 2019 and digital wagering in 2020: “In my district, people drive halfway across the … bridge to place a mobile bet. … We haven’t denied them the chance to bet, they just bet in the communist state of Illinois,” one representative said. “We’re not a nanny state, we can’t keep people from gambling.”
- On Kansas, which itself is considering legalizing wagering: “Missouri is a better state than Kansas in every way, so our tax rate should be lower, too. The current rate is zero, so 8% is better than that,” said Rep. Wes Rogers in introducing his amendment to lower the tax rate. Kansas lawmakers appear to be aiming to pass legislation through both chambers by early next month.
- And on Iowa, where some Missourians go to bet: “I was in Council Bluffs [for March Madness] and I was in line at the cashier, and behind me, I heard someone say, ‘I don’t know why we had to drive all the way up here, I wish we could do this in Kansas City,'” a representative said.
Legalize sports betting in Missouri NOW! Why? Our public schools need revenue. Why are we letting Illinois reap the benefits of St. Louis bettors placing their bets at @DKatCQ ?
— lotsoflocks (@lotsoflocks2) September 12, 2020
Rogers went on to say that Missourians were already “betting with impunity” on black-market apps and that Missouri isn’t a “nanny state” and those who want to wager should be allowed to do so. The hour-long debate seemed somewhat perfunctory as the bills passed easily via voice vote.
Senate could pose challenges
Should the bills get through the Senate, the goal would be to have sports betting live ahead of the 2022 NFL season, and there could be up to 39 digital platforms tethered to casinos and professional sports teams. Last summer, representatives from the state’s casinos and professional sports teams began negotiating terms of what they would like to see in a sports betting bill, and brought their ideas to lawmakers in the fall. The coalition, which includes most of the major casino companies and five professional sports teams across the state, is the first of its kind in the U.S.
I love this game. Denny Hoskins believes he’s got sports betting stymied in Missouri, and he certainly has since 2018. If he has passage blocked in ‘22, meaning he beats pro sports teams and industry, I’d write off Missouri until he terms out in 2025.
— Steve Brubaker (@SteveBrubaker) January 27, 2022
Traditionally, VLTs and sports betting have been linked in Missouri, but the casinos were adamant about separating the issues. Reps. Dan Houx and Phil Christofanelli, who sponsored the House bills, agreed, and Wednesday’s floor vote was the first in either chamber on a sports betting bill. But on the Senate side, Denny Hoskins has long thought the issues should be connected. He’s recently agreed to separate them, with the understanding that both will move forward, though independently. He also favors a higher tax rate.
“The House bill is a good starting point and I understand why the casinos love that bill,” Hoskins said in an email to Sports Handle Wednesday. “I look forward to continuing to be the leader on this issue in the Senate. The House bill is a financial windfall to casinos. I am more interested in passing a bill that benefits Missouri taxpayers, education, and Missouri veterans homes.”
Why is education being removed?!?
We’re normalizing gambling why not normalize educating about it and the risks that come with it.
— Brianne Doura Schawohl (@BrianneDoura) March 23, 2022
Much of the debate Wednesday centered around updated problem and responsible gaming language. Advocates didn’t get everything they wanted, but among the additions are allowing consumers to self-exclude either in person or online; requiring the gaming commission in conjunction with the state’s department of mental health to “develop an annual research report to assess the social and economic effects of gaming”; and setting $500,000 as the minimum funding for responsible gaming, but suggesting the general assembly “consider” study findings annually and potentially increase the funding.