With a Missouri sports betting ballot proposal set to circulate, another eventful legislative session appears in store for the Show-Me State in 2024.
Last month, Secretary of State John (Jay) Ashcroft approved ballot initiative language that could allow voters the chance to legalize sports betting in Missouri. The push is led by the same group (the Missouri Sports Betting Coalition) behind legislative attempts that fell short in the Senate at the hands of Sen. Denny Hoskins.
While the ballot initiative might put added pressure on legislators to pass their preferred sports betting legislation, industry sources are not holding out much hope.
“I believe that once again we’ll see the House advance a bill to the Senate,” one source said. “However, given the ongoing confusion and dysfunction on this issue within that body, there’s a better chance of the Carolina Panthers winning the Super Bowl than the Governor signing a sports bill in Missouri.”
Missouri sports betting dysfunction
In the past two sessions, a House sports betting bill has made its way to the Senate, only to see Hoskins filibuster the issue, ultimately killing it. A coalition of Missouri casinos, sports teams and national sportsbook operators is pushing the legislation.
Rep. Dan Houx plans to roll out the same legislation again this year. However, Hoskins indicated he will not change his tactics.
Hoskins has received donations throughout his career from video lottery terminal (VLT) companies to help legalize the slot machine-like devices. Despite VLTs being a non-starter in the legislature, he has pledged “to be an obstructionist until I get my way” and derailed sports betting for the cause.
“Denny has drawn a hard line in the sand, casinos have drawn a hard line, and unfortunately, those are diametrically opposed,” one industry source said.
Could ballot effort change Missouri math?
The Missouri Sports Betting Coalition submitted the ballot proposals this summer. With language approved, the coalition must secure at least 170,000 Missourian signatures by May 5 to put the question before voters in November.
An industry source said they heard there is up to $20 million committed to the ballot initiative. Still, another source told LSR they fear there are not yet teeth behind the ballot initiative.
“If the ballot is a way that everyone can agree is the right approach, that needs to be an effort starting at the beginning of the year that ignores the legislative process and focuses solely,” the source said.
Why the ballot initiative?
St. Louis Cardinals President Bill DeWitt III told LSR this summer the ballot push is a safety net in case the legislature fails to legalize sports betting again in 2024. The Cardinals, and the other coalition members, believe sports betting brings plenty of benefit to their business.
“We don’t think Denny is serious,” DeWitt told LSR in July 2023. 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 sports betting would open up new fanbase demographics and “unlocks a big sponsorship category.”
Is there enough support in Missouri?
A ballot initiative failed to gain enough signatures in 2022. Surveys this year suggest the public support might not be strong enough this year.
How sports betting could look in Missouri
Houx’s legislation gives sportsbooks and casinos skins for online sports betting. The state’s casinos could open In-person sportsbooks.
There could be up to 39 sportsbooks in Missouri under Houx’s language.
The coalition must still pick the ballot question they will choose to push. Each question gives teams and casinos an online skin, but there could also be licenses available directly to mobile sports betting operators.