Missouri Sports Betting Hangs in the Balance With Senator Hoskins’ Possible Exit

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

The Missouri legislature is virtually in lockstep in green-lighting online sports betting, but the voice of Senator Denny Hoskins has derailed all previous attempts.

However, now the Missouri sports betting landscape may change as Hoskins could step down and, if so, it means Show-Me State could join its neighbors in licensing online sportsbooks sooner than later.

Hoskins May Leave Senate

Senator Denny Hoskins is the powerful voice who has single-handedly torpedoed all previous sports betting legislation that has come before him that was without a provision for his pet project, video lottery terminals.

For five sessions he has demanded VLTs be included in any sports betting legislation and has been vigilant in voting down all previous attempts without it. The VP of Public Affairs for Penn Entertainment, Jeff Morris, said in May that Hoskins was the primary obstacle and has been intractable in his stance.

“I think we’ve reached the point now that one senator halted sports betting in Missouri and that’s Denny Hoskins. Everybody is on board except one guy,” said Morris.

All of the major professional franchises in Missouri are pining to get sports betting legalized and are ambivalent about VLTs. Naturally, the sports teams have much to gain if sports betting is passed as they will reap millions in sponsorship agreements with the online sports betting operators.

Frustration Mounts Due to Political Roadblocks

Before the latest sports betting bill ultimately came up short, thanks to Hoskins, St. Louis Cardinals President Bill DeWitt III said, “I think there are a few things we may push on here at the end. We’re just so frustrated. It’s working against our fans and our citizens who overwhelmingly support it.”

DeWitt was also quoted as saying the professional franchises may attempt a ballot initiative, putting the question of sports betting to the people. “We’re going to take a serious look at that,” DeWitt said.

One frustrated voter tweeted, “@DLHoskins I like thousands of Missourians thoroughly appreciate you holding #sportsbetting hostage until your VLT bill gets passed. I wish there was a way we could figure out how many millions of dollars are going to neighboring states that you are costing Missouri.”

However, all the hand-wringing may be for naught as Hoskins is contemplating a run for the office of Missouri Secretary of State which would mean he would vacate his seat in the Senate. The incumbent, Jay Ashcroft, is at the end of his term limit and his post will need to be filled.

“We need someone in the Secretary of State’s office who will fight for Missouri and stand up to ensure the integrity of our election system. I am proud to have supported legislation to protect Missourians from voter fraud and make our state’s elections among the most transparent in the nation,” said Hoskins.

Video Lottery Terminals Center of Controversy

Missouri State Senator Denny Hoskins has been the lone voice against sports betting in the state but his opposition is predicated on the absence of video lottery terminals (VLT) not being included in the bills. The gray machines are dotted throughout the Missouri landscape in truck stops and convenience stores.

Missouri law is unsettled on the legality of these machines but earlier this year, the Senate Appropriations Committee heard testimony on two competing sports betting bills. Sen. Tony Luetkemeyer sponsored SB 30 which legalizes only sports wagering while SB 1, sponsored by Sen. Denny Hoskins, authorizes both sports betting and licensing VLTs.

Since that time, Hoskins hung an amendment on Luetkemeyer’s bill that piggybacked VLTs onto it but the Senate voted 20-11 against legalizing VLTs throughout the state. As of this writing, the VLTs are still unregulated and many believe that they should be licensed and taxed to bring revenue to the state and protect consumers from unscrupulous operators.

The chief opponents of the VLTs can be found in the Missouri Gaming Association (MGA), a group that represents the casino operators in the state who believe they should be the sole operators of any gaming machines in the state.

Concerns Over Responsible Gambling

MGA representative, Mike Winter, testified against the VLT bill, stating that the casino operators are already in the gambling business and pay taxes on their earnings while sinking major capital investment in the state along with creating thousands of jobs.

Winter said, “The (casino) industry is very good at trying to help identify people who have gambling problems and can give them assistance. This bill is crafted to avoid even finding some of those people.”