The Comprehensive Missouri Gambling Reform Act failed to gain support in the state senate. Missouri is full of video game terminals that operate in a legal gray area. There are as many as 20,004 so-called "informal" slots in bars, rest stops and private clubs in Missouri. The main goal of the expansion of gambling was to regulate these machines. Thanks to the permit, the state could tax terminals as well as their owners and operators. However, the expansion of Missouri gambling also included the authorization for the first time of regulated sports betting.
What Happened to the Missouri Gambling Expansion?
State Senator Denny Hoskins (R-Warrensburg) sponsored SB 98, which included Missouri's gambling expansion proposals. The bill contained provisions such as:
- Authorization for 14, 004 video game terminals, bringing them out of the gray area.
- Updating the technical language on which machines are allowed compared to those that are illegal.
- Taxation of legal terminals, possibly bringing $ 200 million annually to the treasury.
- Prevention of having more than five computers in one location.
- Only allow vid eo gaming terminals in bars, truck stops, or fraternal / veteran halls.
- Allowing Missouri's 19 land based casinos to build retail bookmakers.
However, the proposals were lost in the Senate after the anti-gambling legislature introduced an amendment to public voting. Senator Mike Moon (R-Ash Grove) believed voters should have a say. But his amendment could have caused more confusion over the legality of the terminals. If the people of Missouri defeated the bill during the election, the current state of the machines could be permanently blocked.
Why are video game terminals so controversial?
Dream. Hoskins has been sponsoring an account every year trying to regulate video slot machines since 2017. Also known as video lottery terminals or VLT, there are strong lobbying interests for shadow slot machines. Each VLT is accompanied by a sticker stating that it does not violate any Missouri law. But the owners of truck stops and corner stores that serve the terminals generate significant income from their presence.
Working in a legal gray area means machines do not have the same consumer protection as casino games. The payout rates, fairness and dispute resolution processes are questionable. The Missouri Gaming Commission and a Missouri judge declared the VLT illegal gambling equipment.
Each VLT works like an automaton. The player puts in money and wins or loses dollars in every game. But Torch Electronics, which makes some of the terminals, sued Missouri, arguing that they weren't gambling devices.
After the highway patrol cracked down, Torch said they were being harassed over a misinterpretation of state law. Gambling equipment is illegal in Missouri, unless it is in a casino. But Torch says the VLTs aren't subject to gambling device laws. Because the terminal reveals whether the player wins or loses before depositing, Torch says it's not gambling.
What's next for the Missouri gambling expansion?
Torch Electronics is a company based in Wildwood, Missouri. Lobbying efforts to support business in Missouri are echoing through lawmakers. Therefore, shadow economy VLTs have strong support. However, opponents say they can still deliver machines in a regulated environment.
Other VLT vendors claim that even though their machines are gaming devices, there are no profit locations they can support the terminals. Although Highway Patrol is cracking down on terminals, local prosecutors are reluctant to pursue cases.
The expansion of gambling in Missouri involved an attempt to license and regulate sports betting. The focus, however, was mainly on taking the VLT out of the shadow economy. Sports betting laws, especially web or mobile applications, do not appear to be a legal priority in Missouri.
Neighboring Illinois and Iowa are already leaders in the regulated betting industry. Meanwhile, Tennessee offers regulated online betting without any land based gambling infrastructure already existing in Missouri. Even Nebraska and Kansas are still debating whether or not to participate in regulated betting. Even so, Show-Me-State lawmakers seem unimpressed by the additional revenues flowing into their neighbors' budgets.
2021 Missouri Legislative Session ends on May 20. With only a few days left, cardinals and bosses will likely still need to push boundaries to place regulated bets.