Hopes for Missouri legal sports betting have officially been erased for yet another year. The latest gambling bill failed to receive the needed support at the latest legislative meetings, which have now adjourned. And now, as a direct result, Missouri online sports betting will be out of reach until 2023—at the absolute earliest.
Some observes aren't too concerned. They point toward Missouri's historically slow-to-evolve tendencies, and the fact that legal sports betting in the United States is now the majority standard. Phrased another way: Optimists believe sports betting will be legalized in Missouri eventually, because it must, even if it takes longer than many would prefer.
Taking this view is fine. It might even be accurate. But is the future of legal sports betting in Missouri really that simple?
How Missouri Legal Sports Betting Bill(s) Fell Apart
Entering the latest legislative meetings, there appeared to be real momentum towards the legalization of sports betting. A bill proposed by Representative Dan Houx initially picked up traction, making it through the House vote and all the way to the floor of the Senate.
But then Senator Denny Hoskins happened.
Doux's sports betting initiative originally didn't include video lottery terminals. That appeared to be a sticking point for Hoskins. He eventually relented, softening his stance, only to take exception with the proposed tax rate (10 percent) in hopes the state could raise it. Some states, he pointed out, have taxed sportsbook operators as much as 20 percent.
In the end, the push to get legal sports betting fell apart because nobody could land on the same page. Talks throughout the Senate harped on compromise, and the number of issues started to add up. And ultimately, three different sports betting initiatives were presented to the state's pro sports franchises, some commercial sportsbook operators that factored into the decision-making process and Missouri's casinos. The casinos, as it turns out, rejected all three of the proposals.
The bill that came closest to generating bi-partisan support was one created in an attempt to satisfy all three main parties—sports teams, online sportsbook operators and casinos. This proposal would have created 39 potential sports betting licenses that were split evenly among "six casino operators and six professional sports teams" as well as a select group of online sportsbook operators. It also would have allowed brick-and-mortar sportsbook locations within Missouri's casinos. But even this bill wound up imploding, largely because of a disagreement over tax rates. The proposal called for a 10 percent tax, and those in Hoskins' corner were pushing for a 20-plus percent rate, all while arguing there was precedent because of how much the state already taxed casino-gaming revenue (21 percent).
Was Missouri Even Close to an Agreement?
It is easy to recap how the negotiations played out and feel like Missouri was on the precipice of green lighting legal sports betting. After all, there was at least one bill that garnered some level of bi-partisan support.
Still, the way talks ended could also be ominous. Hoskins' camp wasn't even close on the consensus tax rate. More than doubling the proposed 10 percent rate would create issues that rankle at least two of the three primary stakeholders.
Sports franchises may not take issue with it, because they have so many other revenue streams aside from betting receipts (ticket sales, memorabilia, concessions, sponsorships, etc.). But casinos won't want to foot the bill on a 20 percent tax rate when they already pay that for their table and virtual gaming revenues, and because their sportsbook business will be impacted by the presence of commercial online operators with a larger reach and more established track record when it comes to remote gambling.
Other states have simply taxed the commercial online sportsbook operators at a higher rate compared to everyone else, so that could work. But it's here where those online sportsbooks will object. They are usually paying more to get licenses in glamorous markets, or in states that grant semi-exclusivity to two or three sportsbooks. Missouri's sports market falls decidedly in the middle. It is neither a stale market nor a potential Goliath. And if the state, as currently planned, issues a multitude of online sportsbooks licenses, it detracts from the appeal of setting up shop with Missouri at all.
When Might Missouri Sports Betting Become Legal?
If Missouri is going to balance out and resolve the primary issue impeding legal sports betting, it won't be before sometime next year.
Legal sports betting is always technically only a large meeting and vote away, but to process the proposal outside of legislative sessions requires an urgent approach the state has yet to espouse. It's overly optimistic to believe Missouri would suddenly call emergency sessions to quickly sign sports betting into law when they couldn't find common ground on—or adequate time to even talk about—the tax-rate issues during weeks-long meetings.
For Missouri bettors who aren't content to wait until 2023 or beyond, you're encouraged to peruse our reviews of the top online sportsbooks. More than a few of them will let you set up an account and start submitting wagers.
But if you're disinclined to go that route, we recommend buckling up. Because the wait for legal sports betting in Missouri figures to last at least another year, and even if it is approved in 2023, it may not officially roll out until 2024.
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