Missouri Senate once again unable to reach a deal on sports wagering legislation
Senators defeated a video lottery proposal during eight-hour debate but could not find agreement on expanded gambling.
The Missouri Senate voted against allowing video lottery games Wednesday evening, but it was unable to get a bill authorizing sports wagering to a vote.
A Senate impasse on expanded gambling has blocked bills legalizing sports betting in each of the past two legislative sessions. In both years, as it did again this year, the Missouri House has approved a bill negotiated by casino operators and major sports leagues only to see it founder in the Senate, where a handful of lawmakers insist it should not pass without provisions legalizing video lottery machines.
Sen. Tony Luetkemeyer, sponsor of the sports wagering bill, said he’s glad to have prevailed on the video lottery vote but noted that defeat will not be enough to quiet opponents of the sports wagering bill.
“I am under no illusions,” Luetkemeyer, R-Parkville, said when the Senate adjourned after debating his bill for nearly eight hours. “It is still an uphill battle. We are going to continue to have those conversations and see if they bear any fruit.”
Opposition to Luetkemeyer’s bill was led by Sen. Denny Hoskins, R-Warrensburg, who sponsored a bill that authorized both forms of gambling. Hoskins’ opposition to Luetkemeyer’s bill hardened in February after the Senate Appropriations Committee voted down his bill.
Early in the debate, Hoskins challenged backers of sports wagering to support video lottery terminals by arguing they would crowd out the thousands of unregulated machines in bars, truck stops and convenience stores. Efforts to control the unregulated machines by prosecution have not been successful.
“I have heard a lot from the casinos that we need to clamp down on the ‘unregulated’ machines,” Hoskins said.
An amendment allowing up to three video lottery machines in each licensed bar, truck stop or fraternal hall, offered by Sen. Nick Schroer, R-O’Fallon, failed on an 11-20 vote.
When the bill was brought up, it was nearly identical to the House-passed bill that would enact the scheme for sports wagering crafted by the casinos and major professional sports teams.
It would allow each licensed casino to offer customers three betting platforms, or skins, with a limit of six per casino company. Each of the major league sports teams could contract with a platform to offer wagering branded under their name and would be given an exclusion zone around their arena where only the branded platform could be advertised.
Anyone over 21 would be able to download a sports wagering application to their phone or computer and place bets from anywhere within the state.
The Senate made major changes, however, to the bill’s split of revenue from sports betting. An amendment from Sen. Lauren Arthur, D-Kansas City, bumped the tax rate to 15% from 10%. Sen. Steve Roberts, D-St. Louis, added an amendment that would increase the boarding fee at casinos to $4. The fee is currently $2 and has not been changed since casino gambling began in Missouri in 1992.
Roberts also added an amendment to impose the fee on the use of a remote wagering application.
If the fee had been adjusted for inflation since it was imposed, Roberts said, it would be $4.16. That means, he said, casinos are saving “more money from admissions than the home-dock cities are making.”
The conflict between supporters of sports wagering and those who want to allow video lottery games has blocked passage of both for several sessions. Casinos and major professional sports teams have worked together over the past two sessions to pass a bill that divvies up the market, with a phalanx of lobbyists working to get legislators to agree.
Video lottery machine marketers, with their own corps of lobbyists, have argued that any bill that expands gambling should focus on bringing maximum revenue to the state, not the private sector.
And throughout the day Wednesday, those lobbyists met in groups with Senators to plot strategy or prepare for the next amendment.
Lawmakers are under pressure to legalize sports wagering both to placate constituents and to keep Missouri in line with surrounding states. Only Oklahoma among the eight states surrounding Missouri has not authorized sports wagering.
Kentucky was the most recent state to legalize sports gambling after Gov. Andy Beshear signed a bill last week authorizing sports betting at the state’s thoroughbred race tracks.
More than 200,000 Missourians already have sports wagering accounts and they travel to Kansas, Illinois or another state to place bets. Legislators said as the session started that it was the most common issue raised by constituents as they campaigned in last year’s election.
For some legislators, any bill that satisfies that market will do.
“I would like to get to the end,” Senate President Pro Tem Caleb Rowden, R-Columbia, said during debate. “I am a little less concerned about what the content at the end is than some folks.”
Schroer tried unsuccessfully to add XFL and Major League Rugby teams to the list of professional sports franchises authorized to sponsor betting platforms. He also said getting some form of the bill passed is important.
“If we go home in May without addressing these issues that people have been very vocal on,” Schroer said, “it is somewhat embarrassing.”
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