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The Show-Me State may not have much to show for attempts to legalize sports betting within its borders in 2020. If Missouri State Representative Wes Rogers is reading the situation accurately, those prospects are very slim.

Rogers attributes that to lobbying interests who are effectively holding sports betting legalization “hostage” right now. He is pessimistic about any attempts to liberate it as well.

Video lottery terminals and sports betting in Missouri

Rogers, who served on the House Special Interim Committee on Gaming last year, is one of the biggest proponents of legalizing sports betting in Missouri’s lower legislative chamber.

One of the issues that committee held hearings on was the expansion of the state’s lottery to include legal video terminals in places like gas stations and truck stops.

The lobbying for legislation to expand that has been somewhat successful. Legislators have introduced two bills (SB566 and SB936) in the Missouri Senate and one in the House. The House bill, HB2030, made it out of committee.

For Rogers, the prospect of opening the state up to VLTs is unappetizing. Most of his concerns focus on responsible gaming pertaining to both minimum age requirements and protecting those with compulsive gambling issues.

“Legalized gambling needs to be highly regulated,” Rogers said. “It needs to be in a safe environment. The casinos have been doing this for decades. They know what they’re doing. You’re asking someone who isn’t an expert to take on the same roles as these casinos. You’re going to run into all sorts of trouble.”

Rogers says that he believes the leadership in the upper chamber of the Missouri legislature is “hostile” to VLTs. Because of that, he doesn’t see VLT legalization in the state this year.

Unfortunately for Rogers, that also means the chances of legalizing wagering on sporting events is unlikely this year as well. That’s because lobbying efforts have succeeded in marrying the two interests.

Why legislators are holding sports betting legalization ‘hostage’ right now

Rogers feels that enough of the legislators in his state are unwilling to legalize sports betting without also enacting legislation on VLTs to kill any standalone sports betting bill to expand Missouri gambling this year.

“That’s crazy, they’re apples and oranges,” Rogers explained. “We can pass a clean sports betting bill, start generating revenue, take something off the black market. There’s just no reason to tie it to something that’s so controversial. I think if you were to take a straight up and down vote on just sports betting right now, I don’t think it would pass because the politics are so messy.”

Because the issue is currently tied to the VLTs, Rogers puts the chance of enacting legislation on sports wagering this year at less than five percent. He hasn’t given up all hope, however.

“I told my friends on the other side if we can’t get a sports betting bill done I will make it partisan because I don’t think we’re doing a very good job of listening to our voters on this,” Rogers added. “I get calls to my office pretty regularly to see if we’re getting this done.

“An older man at the YMCA approached me and told me that during the football season, a member of a group of his buddies drives to Iowa every Friday to place bets there,” Rogers continued. “I don’t think a lot of people realize how close we are to getting this done and how much different it would be from the black market.”

There is a reason for Rogers’ optimism on being close. He supports one of the standalone sports betting bills in committee right now.

A clean Missouri sports betting bill

HB2318, introduced by Rep. Phil Christofanelli on Jan. 29, has Rogers’ backing. It’s superior to other bills like SB567 because it doesn’t require future potential legal sportsbooks to pay a royalty to professional sports leagues, for example.

Rogers said that he believes that private tax is dead in the legislature but there is still support for an official data mandate. Rogers opposes that and such language is not present in Christofanelli’s bill.

It’s easy to see why Rogers supports HB2318. Not only does it avoid the traps of restricting wagering to retail sportsbooks or the in-person registration requirement that two of Missouri’s neighboring states have fallen into, but it makes Missouri’s market competitive with a tax rate of just 6.75%.

Regardless of the quality of Christofanelli’s bill, it appears it will languish in committee for the rest of the legislative term, even though the sponsor is more optimistic than Rogers. Because of that, groups like those which Rogers spoke about will have to continue to travel beyond Missouri’s borders to legally wager on sports.

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