Yet another Missouri sports betting bill failed to pass at the latest round of legislative meetings. Naturally, those beyond the closed doors have been looking for a central reason why. And for the most part, one person has been deemed responsible for scuttling the 2023 Missouri sports betting bill: Senator Denny Hoskins.
The longstanding Republican, who represents District 21, is no stranger to shouldering this responsibility. He has been a key figure in previously failed bids to legalize gambling throughout The Show-Me State. His intense focus on Video Gambling Terminals–otherwise known as VGTs—has apparently derailed at least one other Missouri sports gambling campaign before now.
But is Senator Hoskins actually the person most responsible for the latest legal gambling stall? He doesn't seem to think so.
Here's Why Senator Hoskins is Being Blamed for the Continued Absence of Missouri Sports Betting
At every turn in this debate, Senator Hoskins has pushed for VGTs to be approved as part of any laws to legalize sports betting in Missouri. For those who don't know, VGTs are electronic machines that allow people to gamble on-site and digitally, and they are typically found in everything from casinos and airports to bars, card rooms and small businesses that sell lottery tickets, among other places.
These gambling hubs are not particularly common throughout the USA. Most states prefer to limit their betting machines to central locations—mainly casinos and at sportsbooks. A handful of places scatter them throughout the region, but they're considered tough to monitor and potentially predatory. Lawsuits have been filed against certain companies for unlawful practices and faulty machinery.
Most policymakers aren't thrilled at the idea of green lighting the placement of VGTs. In fact, back in 2022, the state legislature didn't actually vote against Missouri sports betting. They voted solely against the inclusion of VGTs, which were shoehorned into the final proposal. That ultimately led to the entire initiative falling apart.
It was apparently the same story this year. Hoskins' agenda remains the same. He sees a market of untapped profit that's in need of regulation and thinks it is critical the state tackles the issue. To this point, though, he's been unable to generate the necessary bi-partisan support to get his vision over the hump. If anything, many of his peers seem frustrated and outright resentful towards him.
And, well, here we are.
Senator Hoskins Won't Accept Fault for Another Failed Gambling Bill
Of course, Senator Hoskins doesn't consider him a worthwhile scapegoat in this situation. On the contrary, he portrays his mission as a necessary one. Consider these comments he made after the most recent Missouri sports betting proposal fell through (via FOX 2 in St. Louis):
"'In an interview Friday, Hoskins said he was the first lawmaker to file a sports betting bill more than five years ago. He said he was hopeful that sportsbooks [would be legalized] this session but not without regulating VGTs and allocating money to compulsive gambling and veterans. 'I didn’t come up here to make millionaires into billionaires as far as the casinos, and if we would pass a sports book-only bill, it would do nothing for our veterans’ homes and cemeteries,' Hoskins said. 'Each casino would make about $24 million in net income.'
"'I would say I get blamed for blocking it quite a bit and that’s not the only bill I’ve ever gotten blamed for blocking,' Hoskins said. 'It’s been estimated that there could be anywhere from 15,000 to 30,000 of these grey machines [VGTs] in the state of Missouri. If you think you are going to win two out of every 100 times that you play, no one is checking that, and no one making sure that yes, someone is winning that amount of times.'"
Hoskins' stance makes sense on the surface. If there are really that many unregulated VGTs peppered throughout Missouri, it would behoove the state to crack down on them. In some ways, it's the same logic applied when allowing people to bet with the best online sportsbooks in the USA. The process is considered safer if the government is ready and able to monitor it.
Will Video Gambling Terminals Remain a Sticking Point in Missouri Sports Betting Debate?
Opponents of Hoskins' VGT insistence are quick to point out his estimates aren't inarguable facts. The range he provides for VGT use (15,000 to 30,000) is quite large and could be subject to a significant margin for error.
More than that, counterparts argue that VGTs needn't be legal to monitor them. Rather than permit their use and regulate them, the state could instead devote resources to finding and shutting them down. Hoskins would no doubt argue this would be an inexact and imperfect process. But so would attempting to regulate all the VGTs throughout the state.
Whether this issue continues to hold up the legalization of sports betting in Missouri will be a matter of course. For now, it sure seems as if Hoskins will keep digging his heels into the ground. And if he doesn't change his mind, the rest of the state legislature may need to concede something.
That feels unlikely. Lawmakers are worried that the legalization of VGTs will cut into the casino business, and that it could also deter the best online betting sites from paying as much to operate inside the state. After all, exclusivity is part of what makes a sports betting license so valuable. The more gambling options you allow, the more oversaturated the market becomes.
Missourians hoping for a resolution to this enduring drama will need to keep on waiting. It's been tabled for the rest of 2023. In all likelihood, there won't be any more clarity shed on the matter until 2024.
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