Missouri Sports Betting Hopes Bolstered by Committee Report

Missouri Sports Betting Hopes Bolstered by Committee Report

Legalized sports betting would provide a revenue boost for Missouri if legalized in 2020, according to a report released by a special House committee. The bipartisan group of House lawmakers convened to study the issue came way largely supportive of legal wagering, giving renewed hope for the long-stalled legislation in the Missouri General Assembly in 2020.

"I’m not one to bet on legislation, but I think that sports gaming will become a very real thing in the near future,” said Rep. Dan Shaul, who chaired the Special Interim Committee on Gaming, in an interview Tuesday with Gambling.com.

Missouri Gambling Legislation

The report, which was released Monday to lawmakers and Tuesday to the public, comes on the heels of multiple Senate bills related to gambling introduced recently. The bills included two placeholder bills that would approve sports betting and a third to approve video lottery terminals (VLTs) under the purview of the state lottery. These are shaping up to be some of the major gaming-related discussions for lawmakers when they return to Jefferson City next month for the start of the 2020 session.

  • Sports Betting: The committee’s stated purpose for sports betting is under the premise “the preservation and growth” of both lottery and casino gaming, which it argues necessitates online and mobile access. It takes no stance on whether oversight should come under the Missouri Lottery, state Gaming Commission or a new agency. There’s also no mention on the number of retail or online licenses (or “skins”) or on tax rates.
  • "There’s some bureaucratic things to be decided,” Shaul said. “I think it should come to Missouri. But how do we get it? The devil is in the details.”

  • Grey Machines: The House gaming report also laid out the reality of 14,000 or so “grey machines,” unregulated gaming devices that act like slot machines. The report acknowledges these devices likely cut into government-sanctioned lottery and casino games, but lawmakers worry how a cutdown or outright ban may hurt fraternal organizations that are now increasingly funded by the machines. Investing law enforcement resources on thousands of these machines would likely be impractical if not impossible, the report says.
  • VLTs: Sen. Denny Hoskins, one of the more aggressive gaming backers in the General Assembly, is once again trying to pass a bill to permit video lottery terminals (VLTs) in Missouri. Already in states such as Arkansas, Louisiana, Kentucky and Illinois, legalization measures have failed in Missouri in each of the last three sessions.

Gambling Background in Missouri

Missouri was among the earliest supporters of riverboat casinos but has, with the exception of the lottery, largely avoided most other forms of gambling.

  • Roadblocks: The Supreme Court decision that allowed individual states to approve sports betting came in May 2018, too late in Missouri’s legislative session that year to make significant progress on legislation. Missouri seemed like a leader to pass a bill in 2019, but it faltered after lawmakers couldn’t reach consensus on how to structure the legislation.
  • Conservative Control: Republicans outnumber Democrats by at least a two-to-one margin in both the House and Senate. Though Republicans have largely championed sports betting, and the measure has bipartisan support, there remains enough conservative opposition to gambling in any form that it could once again jeopardize the latest effort, despite shifting national dynamics.
  • Regional Competition: The Show Me State’s neighbors make existing prohibitions more difficult. Neighbors Iowa and Arkansas take sports bets now, Tennessee and Illinois will do so in 2020 and Kansas, Kentucky and Oklahoma are all considering legislation to do so by 2021.

Next Steps

The Special Interim Committee on Gaming was convened to educate lawmakers about the state of gambling in Missouri. It didn’t lay out specific policy, meaning it's now up to elected officials to piece together legislation.

  • Access to Sports Betting: With Missourians seemingly content with the concept of retail and mobile sports betting, the biggest questions come down to access. Assuming lawmakers can overcome or convince gambling adversaries in the legislature, they would then have to determine how to balance the lottery, casino industry and other possible stakeholders, a difficult tightrope to walk.
  • New Gaming Machines: The VLT bill provides another wild card for not just the fate of grey machines, which they would undoubtedly compete with, but sports betting. VLTs would almost assuredly have a far bigger economic impact for Missouri than sports betting, but widespread access to these machines could prove more politically challenging. The state still has sizable influences from conservative and religious groups opposed to gambling. Any efforts to package these types of bills together could complicate matters further.
  • Governor’s Input: Gov. Mike Parson is avoiding any firm public stance on the gambling bills at this stage of the legislative process. Though lawmakers in the GOP-controlled legislature are confident their fellow Republican will support the final proposals, the governor’s signature remains on any such bill is another question mark.
  • Bottom Line: Missouri lawmakers are increasingly confident that, at the very least, sports betting legalization will pass the legislature in 2020. The “what” and “how” of such proposals remain undetermined.

"It is certainly threading a needle,” Shaul said, “but I think there is a pathway for success for both of these issues, both the grey machines and for sports gaming.”

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