Sports Betting and the Missouri Senate in 2023 and 2024

Sports Betting and the Missouri Senate in 2023 and 2024

As we look back on the first half of 2023, it's clear that the journey toward sports betting legalization in Missouri has been quite a roller-coaster ride. That’s not a surprise – at least not to anyone that has been paying attention – but we ended up on one hell of a roller-coaster.

No, this was not the Screaming Eagle of my youth. Was that uncomfortable? Sure. Bumpy? No doubt. Ultimately, though, it was what you expected - even if it made you a bit queasy. The Missouri 2023 Spring Legislative Session, on the other hand, felt more like the summer they decided to turn the Mr. Freeze around and run the cars backward. Why not give an already unsettling experience a little extra ‘crazy’?

Missouri is among the few holdouts in the rapidly changing national landscape of sports betting legalization. Seven of our eight neighboring states have already legalized sports betting, in one form or another, leaving the Show-Me State in a somewhat precarious position. There can be no doubt, at this point, that the continued prohibition of sports betting is causing millions of dollars to flow out of Missouri’s economy. Often, to neighboring states’ economies. Perhaps equally as often to foreign, offshore sports books. It’s nearly impossible to say with any degree of certainty.

What we do know is that, according to GeoComply (the company tasked with tracking/blocking bets based on location), Missourians attempted to place 8.7 million bets last NFL season – and that’s only to sportsbooks that are legal in other states. Furthermore, we know that conservative estimates have legal sports betting contributing somewhere between $20-40 million dollars, annually, to Missouri’s public education system. And, perhaps most importantly, we know that one senator is primarily responsible for our extra-queasy spring.

The VLT Problem... Again

The rise of VLTs (Video Lottery Terminals) in the absence of legalized sports betting has created an unsavory dilemma. These unlicensed, un-taxed machines give the appearance of gambling without adhering to any of the standard regulations. Gas-station slot machines, they’re often dubbed. You’ve likely seen them if you’ve spent any time along a Missouri highway over the past few years.

Senator Denny Hoskins, the key player in this tale, has championed the cause of Video Lottery Terminals for years now. One might ask themselves what, on earth, VLTSs have to do with sports betting. A fair question. On paper, VLTs don’t have anything to do with sports betting. There’s nothing at all that require the two issues be regulated together. Supporters of the machines will often tie themselves in knots trying to explain how they’re not really gambling machines and they’re not really illegal, but “gambling” is the only attribute these two issues have in common.

"When you talk to the owners of those machines, those small businesses that have those, they believe those are legal. In that aspect, it’s not really an expansion of gaming. It’s unregulated, what we currently have in the state." - Denny Hoskins

And that’s where things become entirely less-easy to understand (remember, we're going backwards on this roller-coaster). Small businesses want VLTs, but want sports betting too. The Casinos don’t want VLTs. And the VLT companies, like Torch Electronics, don’t want to give in on sports betting until the casinos give in on VLTs. And, to properly ice this cake, there is a whole bunch of money being thrown around on both sides. It’s a mess, in short. And Denny Hoskins is at the center of it all.

Presumably in an attempt to gain favor with the public, he often references his own efforts to pass bills including sports betting legalization. In the most literal sense, he’s not wrong. More practically, however, he is the only reason that sports betting remains illegal in the state of Missouri. Hoskins and fellow Senator Bill Eigel (and, to a lesser extent, Karla May), have put themselves front-and-center in the sports betting debate. To describe their exploits this spring as mere filibuster would be a grave disservice to what they accomplished. What did they accomplish, you ask? Well, for the most part, nothing.

Rinse and Repeat

If you’re not a first time reader, this may seem a bit like beating a dead horse – but, hear me out. The horse in this proverb is not dead, nay (neigh?), he is very much alive. And running for Missouri Secretary of State! (Eigel and his sweater-vest are running for Governor, but we’ll save that for another day.) Allowing his charades to fade in the memory of any Missourian would be a travesty. Not only for the cause of legal sports betting, but for the entire state.

You see, Denny Hoskins embodies everything that we don’t like about politicians. He and his cronies are more than willing to shut down the entire legislative process to support the special interests who line their pockets. Now, to be fair, special interest money is ubiquitous in politics these days. Everybody is getting money from somebody. But the impact of Senator Hoskins’ filibusters reach much further than mere sports betting or VLTs. Countless other pieces of legislation were not even discussed due to the time wasted by Hoskins and his band of misfits. Whether you support legal sports betting or not – Senator Hoskins is impacting far more than just sports betting with his theatrics. And he wants to take his show on the road, statewide.

There are other reasons to legalize sports betting in our state. Again, the tax revenue generated from sports betting would be required to fund public education (it’s estimated to generate between $20-40 million annually). But, most importantly, is that we should be able to make this decision for ourselves. Are there negative societal impacts to sports betting? Sure. Are they “evened-out” by the funding for public education? Who knows. But, at the end of the day, we’re having the same argument we’ve been having for decades, centuries maybe, when it comes to our vices – Prohibition? Or regulation? We know which one doesn’t work.

What’s Next…

Despite some brief talk that the St. Louis Cardinals and Kansas City Royals may lead the charge on an initiative petition measure, it appears there will be no further movement on sports betting in 2023. 2024 brings about the final year for both Denny Hoskins and Bill Eigel in the Missouri Senate, as they are term limited. There is hope that, with them both running statewide campaigns, they may be more amenable to ending their filibuster of sports betting. However, there is equal concern that they may double-down and fight even harder, because… well, this is the Missouri Senate, after all. The only thing we can do at this point is: get the word out. These guys are polished BS’ers – they’ve had an awful lot of practice. Let’s make sure the campaign trail knows about their time in the Senate before they even begin their speeches. We wish we had better news, but this roller-coaster ride is likely to have several more twists-and-turns before it mercifully allows us to disembark. Hopefully, with legal sports betting to show for it.

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Other sources used: St. Louis Public Radio, FOX 2 St. Louis