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Missouri lawmakers roll the dice on gambling bills again

The Missouri Times is previewing pre-filed legislation during the month of December, bringing you an insider’s look at bills that could potentially drive session next year. Follow along with our Legislative Preview series here

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — With the 2021 legislative session looming, a handful of lawmakers are once again seeking to make major changes to the state’s gambling regulations.

Republican state Sens. Denny Hoskins, Tony Luetkemeyer, and Caleb Rowden pre-filed legislation to authorize sports betting in the state of Missouri last week. The three versions included near-identical language but would impose differing fees and tax rates for license holders. 

Hoskins said he expected the bills to evolve as the legislative process went on. 

“All of these bills are starting points. I’m open to negotiations and compromise,” Hoskins told The Missouri Times. “Obviously there’s a sweet spot where taxes and fees are most reasonable and profitable, and we’re all trying to get them there.”

Hoskins’ bill, SB 18, would see operators paying a $25,000 application fee, a 9 percent tax rate, and a $50,000 annual licensing fee. The Missouri Gaming Commission would also receive $10,000 from license holders every five years. 

Luetkemeyer’s version would charge a $10,000 application fee, a 6.25 percent tax rate, and a $5,000 annual fee with $10,000 for the commission every five years. And Rowden’s bill would see operators paying $50,000 in application fees, an annual $20,000 operational fee, and a 6.5 percent tax.   

Similar gambling bills were filed by Hoskins and Luetkemeyer last year but failed to cross the finish line. Both bills made it as far as a committee hearing before the legislature took an extended hiatus amid rising COVID-19 cases in the spring.

Beyond sports betting, Hoskins is continuing his fight to legalize video lottery machines for Missouri next year. SB 19, also filed last week, would create the Missouri Video Lottery Control Act. The act would legalize and control video lottery terminals (VLTs) in Missouri bars and veteran and fraternal organizations and allow the State Lottery Commission to issue VLT licenses to manufacturers, distributors, retailers, and businesses. In addition to standard licensing fees, the commission would charge an additional $200 annual fee for each gaming terminal.

Hoskins first proposed the measure in 2017 and championed it in the upper chamber every year since. He said the bill may have a better chance of progressing next session as businesses seek new revenue sources in the wake of a volatile financial year.

“Businesses are looking for additional revenue, especially with the pandemic affecting everything the way it is,” Hoskins said. “VLTs have a high upside as far as increased revenue is concerned. Passing this would increase revenue for education and local municipalities too. I believe that both of these bills have to pass the finish line together since they complement each other so much.

Revenue from the games would go toward K-12 and higher education, primarily supporting transportation and workforce development. The commission would net 36 percent of the gross receipts, with operators receiving the remaining profits. 

Sen. Dan Hegeman and President Pro Tem Dave Schatz also filed parallel bills that would allow the Missouri Gaming Commission to enter into agreements with other agencies to go after operators running illegal gambling operations. Under the acts, any conviction resulting from illegal gaming operations would result in the immediate and permanent suspension of the lottery game retailer license. 

Dec. 1 was the first day of pre-filing for Missouri lawmakers. The 2021 legislative session begins Jan. 6.