Missouri Senate renews efforts to address illegal gambling, authorize sports betting

Sen. Dan Hegeman, R-Cosby, has a discussion May 5, 2021, during a budget hearing at the Missouri Capitol. (Courtesy/Tim Bommel, House Communications)
Sen. Dan Hegeman, R-Cosby, has a discussion May 5, 2021, during a budget hearing at the Missouri Capitol. (Courtesy/Tim Bommel, House Communications)

Gaming and gambling legislation is off to a promising start in the Missouri Senate, proponents said.

Several Missouri lawmakers are hoping to finally push gambling reform and authorized sports betting across the finish line this session after years of trying. Between the House and Senate, nearly 20 gaming and gambling bills have been filed so far.

Gaming and gambling issues may see progress this session as Senate leadership and the larger body have listed them among priorities. The Senate has to largely settle congressional redistricting, gubernatorial appointments and the supplemental budget first, however.

Despite the busy session, Sen. Dan Hegeman, R-Cosby, said there's appetite to move the legislation forward.

"I think this session has more of a sense of urgency," he said. "The industry and stakeholders have come together to push for these bills, that's something we have not had previously."

There have been 10 gambling bills filed in the Senate so far this session and another nine in the House.

Four of the Senate bills attempt to authorize sports wagering, including e-sports, in Missouri and add it to the state's definition of a gambling game.

SB 1046 and SB 1061, sponsored by Hegeman and Tony Luetkemeyer, R-Parkville, are nearly identical in their approach to authorizing sports wagering.

Both bills would restrict the practice to excursion gambling boats and online platforms and require businesses to pay $50,000 to apply for the authority to offer sports wagering.

They would also create designated sports districts around professional sports stadiums. Professional teams would be granted authority to designate an online or mobile sports wagering company to operate in those areas.

Luetkemeyer's SB 764 would also authorize sports wagering with the same provisions.

With some minor changes to fees and regulations for license holders, SB 643, sponsored by Sen. Denny Hoskins, R-Warrensburg, looks largely the same but would allow sports betting on limited mobile gaming systems in hotels, restaurants and other licensed facilities.

Hegeman said the sports betting legislation is important because neighboring states are already moving to legalize it and "if we do not, we will be left behind."

Hoskins's bill and Luetkemeyer's SB 764 have been sent to the Senate Appropriations Committee while the other two remain in line for a second reading.

Hegeman, chairman of the Appropriations Committee, said he intends to give each bill meaningful consideration.

"My expectation is to give these bills a fair hearing, discussion and debate that I believe each issue deserves," Hegeman said. "These are important issues for the legislature to discuss and potentially address."

The only piece of legislation related to gambling that has been substantially acted on so far is Hegeman's SB 632, which was the subject of a public hearing in the Senate Governmental Accountability and Fiscal Oversight Committee Jan. 13.

The bill would authorize the Missouri Gaming Commission to partner with federal, state and local law enforcement to conduct investigations and enforce laws related to illegal gambling.

The act would establish a phone number on the Gaming Commission's website to report cases of suspected illegal gambling. It also allows the state supervisor of liquor control to report suspected illegal gambling at locations with a liquor license. The reports would then go to the Missouri Highway Patrol to investigate.

Failure to remove illegal gambling machines within 10 days would result in the loss of a liquor license, and if convicted of operating an illegal gambling device, retailers would have their lottery game license permanently revoked.

They would also be permanently barred from participating in any plans to implement video lottery gaming machines in the state.

There are two Senate bills that would establish video lottery games in the state: SB 642 and SB 686.

The two pieces of legislation aren't substantially different. Both would authorize the State Lottery Commission to create a system of video lottery game machines and issue licenses to manufacturers, distributors, operators and retailers.

The machines could be placed in fraternal and veterans' organizations, bars and truck stops, and SB 686, sponsored by Sen. Karla May, D-St. Louis, would push them to restaurants and liquor stores as well.

Both pieces of legislation would require machines to be connected to a centralized computer system, cap wagers at $5 and provide the state 36 percent of gross video lottery game sales.

SB 642, sponsored by Hoskins, also caps the number of video lottery machines allowed in the state at 15,000 and permits the use of pull-tab machines, in which game plays are pre- determined by a limited number of ticket results.

Hoskins's SB 906 is another attempt to establish video lottery games with the same provisions.

Hegeman said he believes the state needs the gambling legislation in place to provide clarity.

"The illegal games bill is important because of the issue of, in my opinion, illegal games showing up around the state," Hegeman said. "I feel these games are illegal, but because the lack of action from some prosecutors has caused the need for further clarification."

Additional gambling legislation in the Senate seeks to clarify the definition of an excursion gambling boat and remove limitations for some state employees so they can engage in direct gaming activity.

SB 819, sponsored by Sen. Mike Bernskoetter, R-Jefferson City, would remove the current statute that bars employees of the Missouri Gaming Commission, Highway Patrol and Missouri Attorney General's Office from signing contracts related to direct gaming activity for two years after employment, unless the employee voluntarily leaves or is fired for misconduct related to oversight of excursion gambling boats.

Bernskoetter's bill received a public hearing Jan. 27.

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Click the links below to read the full bill:

• SB 1046: Authorizes sports wagering

https://bit.ly/3s9JRex

Sponsor: Sen. Dan Hegeman

• SB 1061: Authorizes sports wagering

https://bit.ly/34tDYkj

Sponsor: Sen. Tony Luetkemeyer

• SB 764: Modifies provisions related to gambling

https://bit.ly/3J1en0K

Sponsor: Sen. Tony Luetkemeyer

• SB 632: Modifies provisions related to illegal gambling

https://bit.ly/3ojZEq0

Sponsor: Sen. Dan Hegeman

• SB 642: Establishes the Missouri Video Lottery Control Act

https://bit.ly/3ARLyBf

Sponsor: Sen. Denny Hoskins

• SB 819: Modifies provisions relating to certain employees regulating gaming

https://bit.ly/3sdy8eN

Sponsor: Sen. Mike Bernskoetter