Chaos in the Missouri Legislature Over Sports Betting

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The Missouri state flag is seen flying outside the Missouri State Capitol Building in Jefferson City, Missouri. Michael B. Thomas/Getty Images/AFP.

The ongoing saga in the Missouri legislature continues over legalizing online sports betting in the Show Me State. However, the latest push to get the newest version of the bill across the finish line is wrought with the same obstacles as seen in previous attempts.

What’s the Problem?

The majority of Missouri’s state legislators are in favor of a sports betting bill. So are the six professional sports franchises that will be the beneficiaries of a new revenue stream in terms of sponsorship money earned from the online sportsbooks that will be digitally operating within the state. Advertising on the teams’ websites, as well as in its arenas and stadiums, adds up to big bucks.

Thus far, there has been a logjam in the legislature that has prevented those franchises from enjoying those revenues. Naturally, the state will get its share of the online sportsbooks’ profits through the taxes levied on those revenues, which is why so many Missouri lawmakers want to see a sports betting bill passed.

Yet, there is a coterie of Republican state senators that remain intractable in their opposition. That group is spearheaded by Senator Denny Hoskins.

Ironically, Hoskins has no moral objections to sports betting but he wants the legalization of video lottery terminals (VLTs) included in any bill. He has even previously sponsored a sports betting/VLT bill to no avail.

The problem with getting these gray market slot-machine style games that dot Missouri’s truck stops, taverns, and convenience stores legalized is that the casino owners are vehemently opposed to them. Naturally, casino operators are advocating for sports betting so they can partner with online sportsbooks and/or install retail sportsbooks in their facilities. However, they contend the gaming machines will take a bigger bite out of their business than any financial benefit they will gain from sports betting.

Ballot Initiative Push

Senate President Pro Tem Caleb Rowden, a pro-sports betting legislator, has wielded his power by removing the four obstructionist Republican senators from their committee assignments and has gone so far as to revoke their parking spots. The four ultra-conservative senators refer to themselves as the Freedom Caucus. However, Rowden has pejoratively branded them as the Chaos Caucus.

In a press release, Rowden said, “The beginning of the 2024 legislative session in the Senate has been nothing short of an embarrassment. A chamber designed to be occupied with civil, principled statesmen and women has been overtaken by a small group of swamp creatures who, all too often, remind me more of my children than my colleagues.”

The group has filibustered against sports betting legislation in the past and has already begun doing the same during this current session.

Those tactics have been frustratingly successful as the House has passed sports betting bills several times before, only to have them die in the Senate. And no one is holding their breath that this latest iteration, sports betting bill HB 2331, sponsored by Representative Dan Houx, will find a different fate.

Edward Vought, assistant to Rep. Dan Houx, commented, “It’s already absolute chaos in the Senate. We’re going to do our part and get it through the House fairly quickly. But the same obstacles remain in the Senate as last year. If sports betting is not going to get through the legislature, which in my estimation it won’t, I expect they’ll make a push to pass it by IP [initiative petition] in November.”

A Dual Strategy

This brings us to the new path being chartered by the six professional sports franchises. St. Louis Cardinals owner, Bill DeWitt III, is leading the charge for an initiative petition. He wants a sports betting referendum on November’s ballot to let the voters decide.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch ran an editorial that said, “Government by referendum isn’t an ideal system. But when elected lawmakers routinely refuse to carry out the people’s will, citizens are left with little choice but to take matters into their own hands.”

Bill DeWitt III said to a legislative committee, “There’s an approach out there to work on an IP in November if we’re not successful in the legislature this year. We would gladly suspend that effort if we are able to get legislative approval through this bill.”

Bookmakers Review will continue to monitor this story and update our readers as events unfold.