Bill DeWitt III wants legalized Missouri sports betting, and his growing frustration with a state Senator blocking the issue in the legislature is clear in a recent interview with LSR.
The St. Louis Cardinals president directly addressed the challenge posed by Sen. Denny Hoskins, the Senator who has almost singlehandedly stalled MO sports betting legalization efforts over the past two years.
“We don’t think Denny is serious,” said DeWitt, a leader of a coalition backing legalized MO sports betting. “The definition of insanity, this situation is in the dictionary. The door for negotiation is always open. But when you insist on doing the business of Illinois gray-machine companies, it makes it tough.”
DeWitt said there are plans in place for a ballot initiative to legalize MO sports betting should a 2024 legislative push fizzle again.
Hoskins not ready to budge
That could be needed because Hoskins is prepared to revive his obstruction of MO sports betting legislation. At the National Council of Legislators from Gaming States summer conference in Denver this month, Hoskins told LSR the situation from previous sessions likely will be the same unless Missouri casinos are willing to budge on their demands.
While a sports betting proponent, Hoskins has also championed legalizing video lottery terminals (VLT), which are essentially slot machines, in convenience stores across the state. His SB 1, which combined sports betting and VLT legalization, failed to advance out of committee this spring on the ame day that group pushed forward a sports betting-only bill.
Hoskins led a filibuster the past two sessions to kill MO sports betting efforts because other lawmakers do not want VLTs in the same bill. During the 2023 session, Hoskins said on the Senate floor, “I’ll be an obstructionist until I get my way.”
Funds behind VLT push
Since 2017, Hoskins received multiple donations from Illinois-based J&J Ventures Gaming, as well as the Missouri Coin Operators Association PAC and the MO Coalition For Video Lottery PAC, according to Missouri Ethics Commission campaign finance reports.
The main funders for the Video Lottery PAC are J&J Ventures, Las Vegas-based Golden Entertainment and Illinois-based Accel Entertainment Gaming.
Those organizations have contributed more than $10,000 to Citizens for Hoskins.
What can Missouri coalition offer Hoskins?
DeWitt said VLT legalization is a proven losing issue as Hoskins’s sports betting bill that included the machines failed to move out of committee. During one of his filibusters, Hoskins also attempted to amend a sports betting bill to include VLTs, which failed.
DeWitt said the coalition is ready to negotiate on a number of causes Hoskins supports. The Senator often discusses the state’s need to support veterans and education.
Those offers to Hoskins fall on deaf ears, according to DeWitt.
“Obviously, he has been our issue,” DeWitt said. “We are ready to negotiate with him and he’s shared no interest. We’re frustrated, it’s a winning issue.
“We think it will happen, it’s just a matter of when.”
Sports betting industry view on Hoskins
Multiple industry sources told LSR they are pessimistic about Missouri’s 2024 legislative chances, almost exclusively because of Hoskins’s past obstructions.
“It’s really him. There are enough people who want to get sports betting done. It’s getting sort of ridiculous,” an industry source told LSR this month. “I don’t think others have the passion for what he says is fairness for VLTs. He’s really the sticking point.”
Hoskins terms out of the Senate after next year and is running for statewide office, so the path could open in 2025. Still, some sources believe VLT lobbyists will simply find a new champion.
Missouri sports betting ballot initiative
Should another legislative session pass without legalizing sports betting, Missouri voters could have a shot at doing it themselves by changing the state constitution at the polls if the pro coalition qualifies a ballot measure.
“It would be geared to 2024, so we’ll have one more session, and we would like to see legislation happen,” DeWitt said. “But the [ballot proposal] process should indicate how serious we are.”
A legislative source in Missouri told LSR recently they believe sports betting does not belong in the state constitution and is better done through law.
MO sports betting coalition
The state’s casinos and professional sports teams support the Missouri sports betting push. National sportsbooks are also part of the group. An industry source applauded how the coalition came together, even if the casinos “held their nose” to offer teams licenses.
Rep. Dan Houx has been the main sponsor for the proposal, which includes in-person sportsbooks for the 13 Missouri casinos. Casino operators and professional sports teams can partner with up to 39 online sportsbook operators.
Houx plans to introduce the legislation again in January.
Why Missouri teams want sports betting
DeWitt acknowledges the concerns some have about legal sports betting, but he said those are best addressed through a legal industry, including by adding funding for problem gambling programs.
From a team perspective, DeWitt said legalized sports betting would help keep the team competitive and the sports growing. DeWitt gave three main points:
- “Creates a new fanbase with younger demographics who follow players and games with a different interest.”
- “Operators that enter Missouri want to reach our fans and will enter into sponsorships. We’ve been clear that it unlocks a big sponsorship category that most of our competitors have unlocked.”
- “There might be some economies for a sports betting lounge.”
Close calls for Missouri sports betting
Perhaps the closest call for MO sports betting was in 2022, when it appeared Missouri was in a race with Kansas to pass the issue. Ultimately, Kansas sports betting received the governor’s signature, while Missouri stalled out.
Hoskins spiked the issue again this year after it passed the House easily for the second straight year. However, several other Senators joined the filibuster, which included multiple lengthy readings of Ronald Reagan’s biography. In hopes of passing a personal property tax bill, Sen. Bill Eigel mentioned the lack of a sports betting deal between Hoskins and the coalition during his own lengthy oratory.
“Either we are going to have a Senate that is respected and stands on tradition, or we’re going to have something like mud wrestling, which is about what we’ve had for the last couple of years,” Senate Majority Leader Cindy O’Laughlin said during Eigel’s filibuster.