Missouri Sports Betting Hopes Effectively Done for 2021

Missouri Sports Betting Hopes Effectively Done for 2021 article feature image
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Eliot J. Schechter/NHLI via Getty Images. Pictured: Busch Stadium and St. Louis Arch.

Missouri’s 2021 sports betting legalization hopes, already on political life support, faced what could be a final blow when a bill was not advanced by the state Senate last week.

Lawmakers did not consider a bill scheduled for Monday’s calendar that would allow online and retail sports betting through state casinos. The bill is again on Tuesday’s calendar, but it didn’t appear the Senate would take it up after it wasn’t passed out of the chamber and on to the House during last week’s debate.

Sen. Denny Hoskins’ proposal would also permit video lottery terminals, controversial gaming machines that have been an ongoing source of contention in the legislature for years. These terminals would greatly expand Missouri gaming but are opposed by the casino industry as well as many gambling-averse lawmakers.

After debating these terminals each of the past few years, legalization again proved too much for many policymakers, despite bipartisan support for sports betting.

In the meantime, more than a half dozen standalone sports betting bills have gained little traction as lawmakers grappled with the far more consequential and politically fraught fate of the gaming terminals.  Even should the bill pass out of the Senate, it faces similar political obstacles in the House and little time to pass identical versions through both chambers before the 2021 session ends later this month.

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Background

The flurry of sports betting legislation introduced ahead of the 2021 session had industry observers hopeful Missouri could break through its years-long impasse. Instead, it joins neighboring Arkansas and Kentucky among states with failed 2021 sports betting bills.

Hoskins pressed colleagues to legalize both the VLTs along with retail and online sportsbooks as a means to counter the unregulated market. Though sports betting could have been an easier political fight, especially with the casinos’ backing, Hoskins said at a February hearing that if lawmakers were going to counter the unregulated sports betting market, they might as well combat the far larger illegal terminal gaming market as well.

Hoskins’ bill would have allowed thousands of video lottery terminal games at truck stops and fraternal organizations statewide. Already common throughout Illinois, with which Missouri shares the heavily populated St. Louis metro region, the games are far less politically supported in the Show Me State. Lawmakers have also struggled with ways to combat thousands of unregulated “grey” VLT machines already statewide, a problem that has consternated state law enforcement organizations as well as legal gaming entities.

This ongoing grey machine imbroglio combined with entrenched opposition from the legislature’s conservative and anti-gambling groups in the Republican-controlled legislature helped tank the bill despite support from Hoskins and other GOP lawmakers.

Hoskins, a veteran lawmaker and gaming advocate, helped guide his VLT and sports betting proposal out of committee and onto the Senate floor, but could not overcome political roadblocks in the full chamber.

Missouri Sports Betting Underscores Regional Struggles

Missouri’s struggles come as other key states in the region have hit their own sports betting roadblocks.

Though Missouri borders eight states, its Kansas City and St. Louis metro areas are far and away the state’s most populated and impacted by out-of-state policy. Conflicts between Kansas’ casino interests and state lottery retailers helped derail a mobile sports betting bill that could have drawn Missouri bettors.

Meanwhile, Illinois reinstituted an in-person sportsbook registration requirement last month that will hinder new signups. Both its neighbors’ moves could have been a boost to Missouri sports betting had it legalized, licensed and launched sports betting this year, particularly before the lucrative fall football season.

Now, Missouri sports betting backers will now likely have to try again in 2022 facing many of the same political obstacles that have stalled legal wagering for three years and VLTs for even longer.

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