Patrick Tuttle said he enjoys teasing his colleagues in the travel industry across the state. While Southwest Missouri has none of the state’s 13 casinos, it has access to 12 just across its small shared border with Oklahoma.
That means his area can attract casino traffic, even though there are no riverboat casinos on Ozarks-area waterways.
“We have 1,925 hotel rooms, and the five Las Vegas-style casinos offer another 931,” said Tuttle, the director of the Joplin Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Bills regarding two new ways of expanding gambling are making their way through the Missouri Legislature.
While both areas would increase the availability of gambling options throughout the region, bills regarding the legalization of sports gambling and the expansion of video lottery terminals are not believed to offer much of an economic impact.
A year ago, the Supreme Court reversed a ban that prohibited many states from allowing sports gambling. That decision allowed states to start crafting their own laws regulating the activity.
Delaware, New Jersey, Mississippi and Pennsylvania quickly joined Nevada with the passage of bills last year.
Missouri and Kansas legislatures have bills in consideration. State Rep. Cody Smith, R-Carthage, is the sponsor of HB 119, a bill that borrows philosophies from other states’ laws.
“As far as major parts, this is still uncharted territory,” said Smith, who is also chairman of the House Budget Committee. “Some states have already established it, and we’ve taken bits and pieces from different places.”
Like other bills that have been submitted, Smith’s bill would allow Missouri’s existing casinos to allow betting on games in professional leagues, not collegiate sports. It would also set up a legal mechanism for remote use, enabling gambling through apps on mobile devices or computers.
Missouri could see an additional $2 million to $11 million in extra revenue under the bill — while it is revenue positive, that amount is not considered to be a major revenue source, Smith said.
Extra fees paid to the state and to professional sports teams make Smith’s bill different. His bill contains a wagering tax to be paid by casinos and a royalty fee that would go toward professional teams. That royalty fee would help subsidize the cost of maintaining facilities used for those games.
“I don’t particularly care for that. I don’t like how we subsidize leagues,” Smith said. “But the argument is because of the economic impact that leagues have on our state, this is our part of helping to reduce the costs for that infrastructure in the state.”
At a committee hearing in April, officials with the Kansas City Royals and St. Louis Cardinals expressed support for the bill. But the Missouri Gaming Association, a group that represents Missouri’s 13 casinos, expressed its opposition, mainly over the extra fees in Smith’s bill.
Mike Winter, executive director of the association, said those fees strip additional money out of an area of gambling that does not see a lot of profit, unlike table games or slot machines.
“The margin on sports wagering is very small,” Winter said. “They are effectively extra taxes, and those are something the industry has opposed across the country.”
Winter said the association backs bills — such as SB 222, sponsored by state Sen. Lincoln Hough, R-Springfield — that do not have those fees.
Video lottery terminals
Winter and the association also oppose HB 423, a bill sponsored by state Rep. Dan Shaul, R-Imperial, that would allow for the expansion of video lottery terminals throughout the state. These machines offer games of chance and function much like a slot machine.
Smith said that bill in its current form would allow places that have liquor licenses to offer such machines. He is in support of the bill, which would help regulate something he sees all over the state despite their illegality.
State Rep. Lane Roberts, R-Joplin, said he is inclined to vote in favor of the bill if it comes up because it would provide a framework for legal operation.
“Coming from a law enforcement perspective, there are a lot of those machines being operated, but the way of identifying those machines is difficult,” Roberts said. “We have the ability to provide a legal method for doing that, rendering the illegal ones irrelevant.”
But the association believes the bill would expand gambling far outside the scope of the measures voters approved that allowed casinos.
“This bill has the potential to put slot machines in places that Missourians never envisioned,” Winter said. “We should just take the steps to remove illegal machines instead of making the argument that it’s easier to just allow them.
Local impact minimal
None of the bills have generated much worry from locals.
The Joplin Area Chamber of Commerce hasn’t put a legislative focus on any of those bills, according to a spokesperson. Roberts said that while he has heard from gaming industry officials and people representing convenience stores and travel stops across the state, no one from his own district has expressed concern about these expansions of gambling.
Officials with Downstream Casino and Resort also don’t foresee a huge impact.
Despite its Oklahoma address, the casino stakes much of its fortunes on Joplin, said Quapaw Nation Chairman John Berrey. An economic impact study commissioned by the casino found that the casino has generated more than $2 billion for Joplin over the past decade. In turn, the casino relies on Joplin and other Missouri businesses for services, supplies and employees.
Berrey said his casino’s expansion of sports gambling would be minimal — if it were eventually allowed by the state. He does not believe Oklahoma casinos will lose much if Oklahoma’s casinos lose a legalization race to Missouri.
“Our business is more customer service-driven, about the quality of the product,” Berrey said. “I don’t think it will have that big of an effect.”
Like Winter, Berrey prefers a version of sports betting without the royalty fees or extra taxes. As for video lottery terminals, Berrey doesn’t see those competing with what Oklahoma’s tribal casinos have to offer. He does not believe customers at Downstream will leave to play a terminal at the tribe’s Missouri-based convenience store.
But with two weeks remaining to the legislative session, there’s no guarantee that any of the bills will make it to the floor for a final vote, much less to the governor’s desk for a signature. The legislative session is set to end on May 17.