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Legislation would expand gambling in Missouri

Gambling will continue to be a hot issue when the Missouri legislature reconvenes in January, with several bills ready to be debated.

Republican Sens. Denny Hoskins, Tony Luetkemeyer and Caleb Rowden pre-filed legislation to authorize sports betting in the state. The three versions include near-identical language but would impose differing fees and tax rates for license holders. Hoskins expects the bills to evolve as the legislative process goes on.

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

Beyond sports betting, Hoskins is continuing his fight to legalize video lottery machines for Missouri next year. SB 19 would create the Missouri Video Lottery Control Act. The act would legalize and control video lottery terminals in Missouri bars and veteran and fraternal organizations and allow the State Lottery Commission to issue licenses to manufacturers, distributors, retailers and businesses. In addition to standard licensing fees, the commission would charge an additional $200 annual fee for each gaming terminal.

Hoskins first proposed the measure in 2017 and championed it in the upper chamber every year since. He said the bill may have a better chance of progressing next session as businesses seek new revenue sources in the wake of a volatile financial year.

“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. Passing this would increase revenue for education and local municipalities, too. I believe that both of these bills have to pass the finish line together since they complement each other so much.”

Revenue from the games would go toward K-12 and higher education, primarily supporting transportation and workforce development. The commission would net 36 percent of the gross receipts, with operators receiving the remaining profits.

Sen. Dan Hegeman and President Pro Tem Dave Schatz also filed parallel bills that would allow the Missouri Gaming Commission to enter into agreements with other agencies to go after operators running illegal gambling operations. Under the acts, any conviction resulting from illegal gaming operations would result in the immediate and permanent suspension of the lottery game retailer license.

Studies have shown that gambling creates a strain on marriages, families and local social services.

–Dwight Widaman | Metro Voice