One of Missouri’s top lawmakers says that while he’s not bullish about the chances the state’s General Assembly can pass a sports betting bill next year, he still believes an effort will be made.
In a recent interview, Senate President Pro Tem Caleb Rowden told BetMissouri he’s supportive of “any mechanism” that would finally let Show-Me State residents wager on professional and college sports legally within the state. That would include a potential voter referendum next year that has been discussed since the legislature adjourned nearly two months ago.
However, taking the question directly to the voters would not necessarily be an easy sell, the Columbia Republican said.
The inability to pass Missouri sports betting legislation has frustrated bettors who see their state surrounded by neighbors that have legalized sports betting. Six of the eight states bordering Missouri have licensed operators taking wagers. Another, Kentucky, is expected to join that group this fall.
‘No Reason Not To Try’
A bill to legalize it died during the session’s last day thanks to a filibuster waged by State Sen. Denny Hoskins, who has used the tactic previously to derail similar efforts as he’s tried to pass a bill legalizing video lottery terminals statewide.
“Everybody’s seen how it’s unfolded over the last three or four years,” Rowden said. “It’s been hard to get any movement past the VLT folks. So, my assumption is that you can probably pass something legislatively after 2024 once Sen. Hoskins is gone.”
Hoskins is term-limited, with 2024 being the last year of his second and final term in the state Senate. He’s expected to run for a statewide office next year.
Even with Hoskins still around, Rowden later added he expects several lawmakers, including himself potentially, to still submit Missouri betting apps bills when the General Assembly returns early next year.
“There’s no reason not to try… I don’t know that I’m optimistic, but I’m certainly not pessimistic enough that you don’t put the effort in,” Rowden said.
Referendum Could Face Hurdles
After this year’s session ended, there were reports some of the state’s professional sports teams were considering an effort to get the sports betting question before Missouri voters.
Missouri allows voters to approve either new laws or constitutional amendments, with measures needing a certain percentage of registered voters to sign a petition. A statutory referendum would require at least signatures from registered voters equaling 5% of the votes cast from six of the eight congressional districts in the 2020 gubernatorial election. A constitutional amendment would require signatures from registered voters equaling 8%.
Petitions for a referendum on the November general election would need to be submitted no later than six months before Election Day.
The main difference between the two ballot options is control. By seeking an amendment, sports betting proponents could set a tax rate and license fee structure, and those would only be subject to change through another proposed amendment. A statutory referendum would allow state lawmakers to set or adjust taxes and fees and make other changes to the law.
Although sports betting and video lottery terminals have been hot discussion topics the last two years in the legislature, there has been no talk of legalizing Missouri online casinos.
Rowden told BetMissouri he assumes proponents of sports betting, if they pursue a referendum, would seek a constitutional amendment, but he added there’s no guarantee it would pass.
A Saint Louis University/YouGov survey conducted earlier this year found that only 35% of likely voters supported efforts to legalize college and pro sports wagering. That’s compared to 41% who opposed it and 24% who were unsure.
And that’s just one issue.
“You can obviously spend some money and fix that,” Rowden said about the polling numbers. “But there’s a whole host of variables that could weigh into it on the ballot. Is it on the August ballot, or is it on the November ballot? That makes a difference in Missouri. Any host of other factors that could change the game. So yes, there’s a little more risk there. Hopefully, we wouldn’t have to go that route, and we can get it done in the next legislative session in January.”