It’s fourth-and-16 from midfield with three seconds remaining on the clock. If you’re going to throw a Hail Mary, might as well do it where Patrick Mahomes plays, right?
The Missouri House of Representatives on Tuesday voted to add a sports betting amendment to an unrelated bill in a last-ditch effort to pass legal sports betting in the Show-Me State despite the obstructionism of one state senator. The legislative session is set to close Friday.
The effort comes on the heels of St. Louis Cardinals President Bill DeWitt III telling Sports Handle that the Cardinals, the Kansas City Chiefs, the Kansas City Royals, the St. Louis Blues, and other pro sports franchises in the state are considering working around the legislature entirely by petitioning for an initiative to be brought to the state’s voters. The 2023 deadline has already passed, so the earliest it could be presented to Missouri voters would be 2024.
By then, Sen. Denny Hoskins, who has killed standalone legal sports betting bills this year and last, will term limit out of the legislature at the end of 2024.
On the legislative side, the bill that Rep. Dan Houx amended is SB 92, authored by Hoskins and designed to increase investments in rural areas. The amended Missouri Rural Workforce Development Act passed the House 83-65 Tuesday and will move on to the Senate, where most people expect it to meet the same fate encountered by sports betting the last two years: blocked by Hoskins, who wants to tie the fate of Missouri’s illegal slot machines to sports betting.
Houx’s play to amend Hoskins’ deal could force Hoskins to kill his own bill or try to find a way to remove or replace Houx’s amendment.
The amendment would authorize sports betting with a tax rate of 15% and annual license renewal fee of $325,000. It otherwise mirrors language in the package of bills the House sent to the Senate in March.
One gambling industry lobbyist described this latest effort as “definitely an uphill climb,” with only a few days left before both houses adjourn at week’s end.
“We appreciate the efforts of Rep. Houx and members of the House to continue to push to legalize sports wagering,” said Mike Winter, executive director of the Missouri Gaming Association, which represents the state’s 13 casinos. “Adding the amendment to SB 92 clearly puts the issue in Senator Denny Hoskins’ hands to either prevent passage of sports betting or be a part of bringing legal sports betting to Missourians. We’d urge Senator Hoskins to take up and pass SB 92.”
Pro sports teams getting frustrated
If Hoskins continues to hold firm and insist that sports betting be linked to the fate of off-casino slot machines, often called video lottery terminals, he’ll be running afoul of some powerful entities in the state. They include one of the most storied franchises in baseball’s National League and the reigning Super Bowl champs.
I agree with Bill DeWitt, the #STLCards, the #KCChiefs and all the common-sense folks in MIssouri who believe it’s time to legalize sports betting. We still have a chance before the end of this #MOLeg session!https://t.co/vQTMF5PKPG
— Caleb Rowden (@calebrowden) May 10, 2023
It’s fair to say the sports teams are growing tired of a process that has kept sports betting illegal in Missouri while seven of its eight neighboring states already have passed it, meaning potential tax dollars are leaving the state as bettors cross borders to get in on the action.
“We’ve been at this for four years in the legislature and every year this keeps happening, where we have an issue that is, we believe, popular. We have the votes. A bill that we supported passed the House, then it goes over to the Senate and one guy blocks it, because he wants VLTs to be part of it,” DeWitt said. “Expansion of slot machines in Missouri has very little support, but because the issues are tangentially related, this very powerful lobby — based in Illinois by the way — bullies their way into the legislative process.”
‘Truly a special interest’
DeWitt was referring to Illinois-based J & J Ventures Gaming, which operates VLTs in Illinois, where they are legal and regulated. According to records supplied by the Missouri Ethics Commission and reported by US Bets earlier this week, J & J Ventures has contributed $45,000 to Hoskins’ campaign, either to Citizens of Hoskins or via his political action committee, Old Drum Conservative PAC, since 2018. Hoskins wants to legalize the machines, which he then hopes will replace the illegal machines that have proliferated in the state over the last six years.
“Look, we are a special interest, I get that — sports,” DeWitt said. “But we’re a little bit of a different kind of special interest. We have a certain demographic behind us in our lobbying efforts on this issue. Slot machine expansion is truly a special interest. I don’t know who it benefits other than those on the other side of the slot machine business. It’s just super frustrating.”
Royals back effort to legalize sports betting in Missouri https://t.co/aQX16vSNzB
— KCTV5 News (@KCTV5) May 10, 2023
DeWitt said he has no doubt that the other teams will continue to stand behind the Cardinals’ efforts at either introducing a ballot measure or finding another way to pass sports betting in Missouri. The state’s pro teams started down the road to a voter initiative in 2021, but they abandoned the effort in hopes that legalization would come via legislation. DeWitt also is hoping for help from digital sportsbook operators.
“It’s a big effort, but we have a certain ability to get signatures with our games,” DeWitt said. “We think we would have the support of the major operators, the DraftKings and the FanDuels of the world, and the casinos, who we have been trying to partner with on this legislation. They bring their own set of issues that make it somewhat problematic, but that consortium has been on the same page and that would be a pretty powerful consortium. We’ll just have to wait and see. I think it’s a little premature to project our strategy with [a few days] left in the process.”
The frustration of the teams stems, in part, from what they view as a competitive disadvantage. For example, the Chiefs play in a division with the Denver Broncos, who have partnered with BetMGM. Similarly, the Cardinals’ archrivals, the Chicago Cubs, have a deal with DraftKings. Missouri’s pro teams could currently partner with a sportsbook for, say, sponsorships or advertising, but unlike in states with legal wagering, the Missouri team deals wouldn’t be as lucrative because the partner can’t offer wagering.
“There are all sorts of revenue streams where you’re either on the plus side or the minus side relative to your competition,” DeWitt said. “But this is a pretty big revenue stream. It’s a very large sponsorship category unlock for us. If we’re legal, all the sports betting operators are going to look to reach our fans and, to do so, they’re going to have to come through us.”
— Jill R. Dorson contributed to this report