Missouri Senate dysfunction reappears after committee votes down gambling bill

After a mostly quiet legislative session, Thursday’s filibuster was a reminder of the drama that bogged the Senate down over the last two years

By: - February 24, 2023 6:00 am

Republican state Sens. Cindy O'Laughlin and Denny Hoskins on the Senate floor on Feb. 12, 2023 (Annelise Hanshaw/Missouri Independent).

Action in the Missouri Senate briefly ground to a halt Thursday morning, after a Republican lawmaker used procedural maneuvers to gum up the legislative process in retaliation for one of his bills dying in committee.

Sen. Denny Hoskins, R-Warrensburg, staged a filibuster for most of Thursday morning after a Senate committee voted down his bill that would have legalized sports betting and video lottery games

Instead, the committee approved a different bill focused solely on sports betting. 

Hoskins said he didn’t know ahead of time that the vote was taking place, and that several people who supported his legislation in the past flipped their vote this year. The committee voted 10- 2 to defeat the bill Thursday morning. 

In response, when the Senate convened shortly after 10 a.m. it was greeted by Hoskins refusing to allow a procedural vote to approve the previous day’s journal. He offered an amendment to the journal declaring the Senate wasn’t interested in stopping illegal gambling, then began his filibuster. 

Hoskins sat down shortly after noon, withdrawing his amendment and allowing Senate business to move forward. The chamber quickly regained its footing and sent 14 bills to the House, most with bipartisan support. 

“I do respect the Senate, and I know we’ve got quite a few people that have bills that they would like to see discussed today,” Hoskins said as he ended his filibuster. “We’re gonna move forward today and continue this discussion.”

Thursday’s brief flirtation with gridlock was in many ways a return to form for the Missouri Senate, which over the last two years has barely functioned due to GOP infighting. 

The divide that mired the chamber in dysfunction seemed to have at least partially healed this year, after the conservative caucus disbanded in the hopes of improving its relationship with GOP leadership. Over the first seven weeks of this year’s session, the chamber has moved through legislation with few dust ups. 

Hoskins’ filibuster — which was assisted by another member of the now-disbanded conservative caucus, Sen. Bill Eigel of Weldon Spring — is the first semblance of the dysfunction of the last few years. 

“This year we tried to not be obstructionist,” he said. “But last year, I got more done when I was an obstructionist. If that’s what I need to do to further bills I think will help the State of Missouri and my constituents, then I’ll return to that form and be an obstructionist until I get my way.”

Missouri Senate conservative caucus disbands after two years of ugly GOP infighting

At the heart of Thursday’s disagreement is whether two types of gambling — betting on sporting events and video slot machines — should be linked in order for either to be legalized in Missouri. 

Casino companies and major sports teams back sports wagering legalization, but oppose linking it to legislation pertaining to unregulated slot machines that have proliferated around the state in recent years. 

The Missouri Gaming Commission has deemed the slot machines as gambling devices, which are prohibited outside of licensed casinos, and the state highway patrol considers them illegal. Several local prosecutors are also pursuing criminal charges against the companies that own and house the machines.

Hoskins argued Thursday that by legalizing these games, Missouri would actually see a reduction in their numbers, as anyone operating in the industry would fall under strict state regulations that would only allow them only in bars, liquor stores, restaurants, truck stops and fraternal organizations.

The games would have to be placed in an enclosed area, with restricted access to make sure no one under 21 could enter. Any machine offering a cash prize to players that is not authorized by the Missouri Gaming Commission or the Missouri Lottery Commission would be illegal.

In addition, Hoskins argues, the revenue from legalizing video lottery machines would dwarf the amounts the state could realize from sports wagering. 

Senate Minority Leader John Rizzo, D-Independence, said he doesn’t have high hopes a bill will find success this year. The same standoff between casinos and video lottery terminal operators that doomed the bill last year persists, he said. 

“The (video lottery terminal) people don’t want the casinos to get the sports book, and the casinos don’t want to let the VLTs operate,” he said. “This is not a hard thing to figure out. A lot of people want to make it more complicated than what it is. I was taught a long time ago, when everyone says it’s not about money, it’s about money.”

As for the filibuster drama of the day, Senate President Pro Tem Caleb Rowden, R-Columbia, told reporters he’d be lying if he said “all the wounds are healed” from the last few years of Senate infighting. 

But he doesn’t think Hoskins’ filibuster is a bad omen for the rest of the session. 

“We’re gonna have good days and bad,” he said. “I think we’re gonna have fewer bad days than we did last year. At least I hope so.”

As the day finally wound down Thursday afternoon, with the Senate making its way through bills it intended to send to the House,  Republican Sen. Tony Luetkemeyer presented legislation pertaining to the Kansas City Police Department. 

Hoskins rose to ask him a question about one of the legislation’s provisions. 

“Well, if I was a betting man, I’d say…” Luetkemeyer replied, before Hoskins interrupted. 

“Let’s not talk about betting today,” Hoskins said, laughing.

Luetkemeyer responded: “Probably a poor choice of words.”

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Jason Hancock
Jason Hancock

Jason Hancock has spent two decades covering politics and policy for news organizations across the Midwest, with most of that time focused on the Missouri statehouse as a reporter for The Kansas City Star. A three-time National Headliner Award winner, he helped launch The Missouri Independent in October 2020.