JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – It’s legal in nearly all of Missouri’s surrounding states to place a wager on college and professional sports teams, but the chips are stacked against the Show Me State.
The odds of legalizing sports betting at the beginning of the session in January were high, but once May rolled around, Missourians placing bets on their favorite sports teams became a long shot. Some of it is due to Senate Republicans not agreeing. Some are already working on a plan for next year.
“You’re going to have unfinished business,” Senate Majority Leader Caleb Rowden (R-Columbia) said. “You don’t get to do 15 big things in a year. It’s just never going to be that way.”
Legally betting on the Kansas City Chiefs or the St. Louis Cardinals has been put on hold for another year in Missouri. Back in March, the House passed legislation to allow anyone 21 and older to legally place wagers on colleges and professional sports teams online or at side sports venues and casinos.
Back in 2018, the Supreme Court struck down a federal law against sports betting. Since then, roughly 30 states have legalized it, including Illinois. Earlier this month, Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly signed legislation into law, legalizing it in the Sunflower State. Missouri’s governor says he’s indifferent.
“It depends whether you want sports betting or not, whether it’s a failure,” Gov. Mike Parson said. “I mean, I don’t know about that. Everybody has an opinion and whether it goes through the legislative process, that’s up to the legislators. I don’t know if that’s disappointing one way or another.”
Members, especially Republicans, in the upper chamber couldn’t find a path forward. A big hurdle is what to do with video lottery games like slot machines.
“The attorney general has turned a blind eye to this issue and lets this continue on,” Senate President Dave Schatz (R-Sullivan) said. “There are millions of dollars every day going through that’s not getting into the hands of the taxpaying base in this state that should be going to education.”
Lawmakers call them “grey” machines. It’s been a priority for Schatz over the years to get rid of the unregulated illegal slot machines that have been popping up in gas stations. These slot machines contain no consumer protections and can say that someone will win two out of every 100 times, but there are no laws regulating that.
“There are people who are living off the backs of people that are benefiting from illegal gaming on the 25,000 plus games that are going on throughout this state right now,” Schatz said. “If I’m disappointed in one thing that didn’t get done, that’s one thing that needs to be stopped in this state.”
Sen. Denny Hoskins (R-Warrensburg) has been filing legislation and working to legalize sports betting for years in the Show Me State. He says there are roughly 20,000 “grey” machines in Missouri. In the Senate’s version of the bill, 5,000 video lottery games would be allowed in the state with no more than seven per location in truck stops, fraternal and veterans clubs, and the entertainment districts around the six sports venues where the state’s professional teams play.
Shortly after the debate started, an amendment offered by Sen. Mike Bernskoetter (R-Jefferson City) would remove those lines from the bill, doing away with all slot machines. This is where debate ended in the Senate and with session now over, leaving members until next year to try again.
Another barrier to sports betting in the upper chamber – the tax rate on wagers. The Senate’s version increased the wagering tax to 10% compared to the 8% the House approved. Hoskins said that during discussions in the final weeks with stakeholders, it wasn’t enough for the casinos.
“The casinos want a golden ticket,” Hoskins said. “They want all the revenue to themselves and don’t want to provide the kind of revenue we need to help fund our veterans’ homes. Casinos basically killed this because of their greed.”
He said casinos were offered a 15% rate during the final hours of session but wouldn’t accept it. Compared to Missouri’s surrounding states, Illinois’ is up to 17%, Nebraska and Tennessee are 20% and Arkansas is between 13% and 20%, according to Hoskins.
“I think we’re going to see a lot of states realize that the casinos are getting really rich on this and it’s causing a lot of problems that those stakeholders, such as casinos, are not paying into the state to help out mental health when in regard to problem gambling,” Hoskins said.
Other Republicans in the Senate, think expanding gambling only causes more burden on the state.
“This is detrimental to society,” Sen. Bill White, R-Joplin said. “How many more people are we going to have that are going to need some sort of assistance because someone spent a little too much money on any of these forms of gambling?”
White said he also sees “grey” slot machines at gas stations when he stops on his drive from Joplin to Jefferson City.
“What are the social costs dealing with this?” White said. “How much money isn’t going home.”
Hoskins said all of Missouri’s professional sports teams were on board with legalizing sports betting, but it was the casinos who weren’t. He’s going to use the summer to talk with stakeholders on both sides, with the goal of lawmakers addressing the topic again next year.
According to the National Council on Problem Gambling, around 92,000 Missourians are currently struggling with a gambling problem, ranking Missouri 33rd out of 50 states. Last year, there were 4,000 calls and texts to the National Problem Gambling Hotline from Missouri.