JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – Chances that sports betting becomes legal in Missouri this year are getting smaller and smaller after the Senate debated for eight hours on the topic without taking a vote.
Nearly all of Missouri’s neighboring states allow sports wagering, which means many Missourians cross state lines to place a bet. The reason why the upper chamber hasn’t been able to pass a bill to legalize it is because some members also want to approve slot machines for gas stations and bars.
“If you want a stand-alone VLT bill, then you let it go first and then let’s talk about sports betting,” Sen. Karla May, D-St. Louis, said on the Senate floor.
Video lottery terminals, better known as VLTs or gray machines, are currently unregulated in the state. Thousands of these video gaming machines, that pay a cash prize, are found in places like gas stations. While some want to legalize VLTs, others say the two topics should be kept separate.
“The thing you heard last night is certainly the will of the body is not to marry the VLT issue and the sports betting issue,” Senate President Caleb Rowden, R-Columbia, said Thursday.
For nearly eight hours Wednesday, senators went back and forth on how to move forward with sports betting. An amendment offered by Sen. Nick Schroer, R-Defiance, would have allowed up to three video lottery machines in each licensed bar, truck stop or fraternal hall. The provision failed on an 11-20 vote.
Senate Minority Leader John Rizzo, D-Independence, voted in favor of the amendment.
“If they [VLTs] exist right now with the gray market, if we could have some sort of regulatory oversight to how those things are being distributed throughout the state, that’s important to me,” Rizzo said. “If I could wave a magic wand and get rid of all of them I would but the fact of the matter is, I go to gas stations in Missouri and I see betting machines and my opinion is they are illegal but if they aren’t going to be enforced then we should regulate them.”
After the amendment failed, it caused the overall issue of sports betting to fall short of a vote. The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Tony Luetkemeyer, R-Parkville, laid the bill over around 8 p.m., ending debate.
“In order to keep Missouri tax dollars here, to eliminate the unregulated market of illegal sports betting and to protect consumers, we need to pass Senate Bill 30,” Luetkemeyer said.
Luetkemeyer said on the floor Wednesday, 375,000 Missourians were blocked during the first week of March Madness from placing a sports bet.
Last month, the House passed its own version of sports betting, with a 10% tax on sports wagers. Estimated to bring in more than $20 million dollars, money would go to the state’s education fund and compulsive gambling problems.
“I think sports betting is another great example where the super majorities that the Republicans hold, they can’t seem to get priority legislation done,” House Minority Leader Crystal Quade, D-Springfield, said Thursday after being asked her thoughts about the Senate.
While Rizzo says this might have moved the ball in the right direction for the upper chamber, he said it’s absurd lawmakers can’t get this passed.
“You can buy recreational marijuana, you can go to the casino and make as many bets as you want, you can buy lottery tickets, but I can’t bet $50 on the Chiefs to win the Super Bowl next year or the Cardinals to win the World Series,” Rizzo said.
With only five weeks left in session, Missouri could be playing another losing hand at a bill supported by all of the state’s professional sports teams.
“The odds?,” Rowden was asked Thursday. “Not good, unfortunately.”
A change made to the bill would increase the tax rate from 12% to 15%. Sen. Steve Roberts, D-St. Louis, also added another amendment to bump the board fee at casinos from $2 to $4. He said the last time the rate was increased was 1993. The addition money would go to veterans’ homes and cemeteries.
Last week, another one of Missouri’s bordering states, Kentucky, legalized sports betting. Rowden does think the House’s version will come up on the Senate floor still this session.