Missouri Lawmakers Approve Illegal Gaming Machines in the State

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Missouri lawmakers – at least enough of them to control the votes – are fine with illegal gambling occurring in the state. That’s the logical conclusion that can be drawn by the announcement that they rejected a bill earlier this week that would have created new gambling regulations and brought an end to illegal gaming. With the defeat, it should be a foregone conclusion that more video gaming terminals (VGT) will begin to pop up, all of which will be able to operate without giving the state a piece of the action.

No New Tax Revenue for Missouri

For the past couple of years, efforts to stop what is considered to be an illegal VGT market have been attempted. However, those efforts continue to fail. The latest try came through Senate Bill 98 (SB 98) and, when it made it to the Senate floor this week, it suffered the same fate as its predecessors. According to the bill’s sponsor, Senator Denny Hoskins, casino companies and other VGT operators are enabling the illegal use of VGTs, which are operating in a legal “gray market” and found in bars, convenience stores, other retail properties and virtually anywhere they can see significant traffic.

Hoskins was likely a little surprised by the outcome of the vote. He said after the announcement was made, “For [the operators], it seems, the proliferation of illegal gaming in Missouri is not just an acceptable outcome, but an outcome that is preferable to regulation. I have impressed upon my colleagues (that) illegal gaming will continue to spread across our state until we take action to regulate it.”

The senator was also likely surprised that his fellow lawmakers couldn’t grasp the economic value of legalizing the VGTs. SB 98 would have authorized the installation of as many as 10,000 terminals, all of which would provide the state with tax revenue. Currently, there are estimated to be between 14,000 and 20,000 VGTs in use, all of which have been operating with no oversight.

Sports Gambling Off The Table, As Well

SB 98 also attempted to bring sports gambling to the state and the bill’s death means there won’t be any legal sportsbooks operating within Missouri’s borders anytime soon. This, too, will impact the state’s revenue and it has been estimated that, between legal VGT and sports gambling operations, the state could earn as much as $200 million a year in tax revenue. Following the example set in virtually all other states, that money could be used to improve Missouri’s education system.

The bill was defeated because another senator, Mike Moon, threw in an amendment that suggests the idea should be put before voters. His amendment found enough support in the Senate and Missouri residents will, at some point, be given the opportunity to decide on expanded gambling. However, in the meantime, illegal gambling will continue to rake in hundreds of millions of dollars and leave the state empty-handed. Moon seems to think that if “something is illegal, it would still be illegal,” but the fact that there is widespread illegal gambling occurring shows that being illegal isn’t enough to prevent it.

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