With three pre-filed bills on tap, Missouri likely to OK sports betting in 2021

(The Center Square) — With states scrambling for revenues to boost pandemic-stressed budgets, it’s a good bet a raft of sports gambling bills will be approved by lawmakers across the nation in 2021. 

Already, three such proposals have been pre-filed for Missouri’s 2021 legislative session, which begins Jan. 6.

State Sens. Denny Hoskins, R-Warrensburg, Tony Luetkemeyer, R-Parkville, and Caleb Rowden, R-Columbia, have pre-filed nearly identical legislation calling on lawmakers to authorize sports betting in Missouri.

Missouri allows bingo gaming, riverboat casinos and online gambling. Gaming taxes and fees are the state’s fifth-largest source of revenue, placing it ninth in the nation for gaming revenue, according to the Missouri Gaming Association (MGA), which notes Missouri casinos employed almost 20,000 people who earned $884 million in 2018.

The American Gaming Association estimated Missouri’s 13 riverboat casinos contributed more than $550 million in gaming revenue for local and state government in 2018.

Sports betting is now legal in 18 states and Washington, D.C., following the 2018 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Murphy v. National Collegiate Athletic Association.

Another four states – Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Washington – passed 2020 bills legalizing sports betting that go into effect in 2021.

After bills failed in 2019, Hoskins and Luetkemeyer filed legislation to legalize sports betting during the 2020 session. Both bills made it through one committee hearing each before rising COVID-19 cases forced the Legislature to adjourn early. 

During the 2020 session, Hoskins argued the state could collect between $12.5 and $30.9 million in annual revenues if it legalized sports betting. He told Gambling News Wednesday those revenues are now estimated to be $37 million to $50 million. 

Hoskins’ Senate Bill 18 would require operators pay a $25,000 application fee, a 9-percent tax rate and a $50,000 annual licensing fee. The Missouri Gaming Commission (MGC) would receive $10,000 from license holders every five years.

Luetkemeyer’s SB 217 would assess a $10,000 application fee, 6.25-percent tax rate and $5,000 annual fee with $10,000 for the MGC every five years.

Under Rowden’s SB 256, operators would pay $50,000 in application fees, an annual $20,000 operational fee and a 6.5-percent tax rate.

Hoskins told the Missouri Times he expects the bills to morph into one that needs to be approved to capture revenues being generated by state residents sports betting on platforms that pay taxes to other states.

“All of these bills are starting points. I’m open to negotiations and compromise,” Hoskins said. “Obviously there’s a sweet spot where taxes and fees are most reasonable and profitable, and we’re all trying to get them there.” 

For the fifth straight session, Hoskins has also introduced legislation to legalize video lottery machines, pre-filing SB 19, his long-proposed Missouri Video Lottery Control Act.

The bill would legalize video lottery terminals (VLTs) in bars and veteran/fraternal organizations and allow the state to issue VLT licenses to manufacturers, distributors, retailers and businesses.

Under SB 19, the Missouri Lottery Commission would assess a $200 annual fee for each VLT in addition to licensing fees. At least two other pre-filed 2021 bills also seek to legalize VLTs.

Hoskins told the Missouri Times the fifth time might be the charm for his Missouri Video Lottery Control Act as businesses seek ways to generate profits and governments struggle to develop new tax revenue streams.

“Businesses are looking for additional revenue, especially with the pandemic affecting everything the way it is,” he said. “VLTs have a high upside as far as increased revenue is concerned.”