Sports wagering impasse upends the Missouri Senate a day before adjournment

By: - May 11, 2023 6:13 pm

Sen. Bill Eigel, R-Weldon Spring, holds the Missouri Senate floor alone the evening of May 11, just over 24 hours from the legislative deadline (Annelise Hanshaw/Missouri Independent).

A Republican lawmaker running for governor next year held up all action in the Missouri Senate Thursday night, arguing one of his top legislative priorities was being held hostage in negotiations over legalizing sports wagering. 

Sen. Bill Eigel, R-Weldon Spring, spent much of the evening reading aloud from a biography of Ronald Reagan and from the Missouri GOP’s platform, blocking any action on legislation. 

Shortly before 7 p.m., the Senate recessed until morning. The legislature is required to adjourn by 6 p.m. Friday.

Eigel says his top legislative priority, a bill cutting personal property taxes, has become embroiled in disagreement over legalized sports betting, inspiring his one-man filibuster. The bill is only one vote away from being sent to the governor, he noted. 

“The reason we aren’t going to that motion,” he said, “is because some powerful special interests in this building are also hoping to try to add sports betting to the personal property tax bill, or maneuver another bill that may include a sports betting provision prior to moving a personal property tax cut.”

As Eigel continued his filibuster, a litany of bills hung in the balance, running from changes to the initiative petition process to a ban on foreign ownership of farm land to tax credits to improve access to child care. 

Prior to Eigel seizing control of the Senate floor, the chamber had returned to normal functions after three days of gridlock, as GOP lawmakers blocked or slowed progress. 

It started Monday, when Sen. Mike Moon, R-Ash Grove, blocked all action in retribution for the Senate approving a postpartum Medicaid bill days earlier while he was absent dealing with a family illness. 

He returned Tuesday and once again slowed down proceedings. He was assisted on Wednesday by other senators who made up the now-defunct conservative caucus, each of whom had a list of bills they wanted approved in order to allow the chamber to function normally.

Gridlock plagues Missouri Senate once again with just days to go before adjournment

When the Senate returned Thursday morning, it began passing bills and sending them to the governor, including one banning texting while driving and another requiring fingerprint background checks for cannabis industry employees. 

After several hours, Eigel began his filibuster, claiming that no other legislation should pass if the Senate wasn’t going to focus on bills “that are actually important to this state.”

He said there is no deal on sports wagering, and holding up other bills like his property tax cut in the hopes of finding a compromise is pointless. 

“There is no deal on sports betting,” he said. “It’s not going to happen no matter what we do on personal property tax in the next 24 hours.”

If no sports wagering bill is passed this year, it would be the fifth year lawmakers have failed to act since the U.S. Supreme Court in 2018 struck down federal laws banning sports betting nationally. Sports wagering has since been legalized in every state adjoining Missouri except Oklahoma. 

Casino companies and professional sports teams are eager for the revenue from sports wagering, and last year agreed on a proposal that slices up the market to their liking. It set the tax rate at 10%, allowed a deduction from gross revenue for promotional costs and allowed players to bet from any location on a smart device.

But that bill – any other bill authorizing sports wagering – has faced stiff opposition in the Senate. 

The main obstacle is Sen. Denny Hoskins, a Warrensburg Republican who has insisted on also legalizing a new form of lottery game for people to play in bars, truck stops and fraternal halls. 

The machines in question operate similarly to what you’d find in a casino. Players insert money, select a game and decide how much they wish to wager. Winners get paid by the store cashier.

The Missouri Gaming Commission has deemed the machines gambling devices, which are prohibited outside of licensed casinos, and the state highway patrol considers them illegal.

The companies that own the machines disagree, saying they reveal the outcome of the wager before the player moves forward. Thus, the company argues, they are not a game of chance and therefore not illegal.

Hoskins has argued that revenue is far greater from legalizing video lottery machines, potentially, than the taxes from sports wagering and therefore the two should be done together. He also believes legalizing them will result in more regulation and consumer protections. 

Sports wagering legislation has been attached to several of Hoskins’ bills over the last week, though he’s shown few signs of relenting from his opposition. 

“What would you choose: personal property tax cuts or sportsbook?” Hoskins tweeted as Eigel spoke in the Senate. “I choose tax cuts.”

The Independent’s Annelise Hanshaw contributed to this story. 

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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.