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House committee dives into Missouri gambling

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Lawmakers got an inside look as gambling in Missouri during a two-hour hearing largely focused on illegal slot machines.

The first meeting of the House Special Interim Committee on Gaming got underway Thursday afternoon with a presentation from David Grothaus, the executive director of the Missouri Gaming Commission. 

Those in attendance directed their attention to the thousands of machines around the state where jurisdiction falls into what was called a “gray area.” 

Terminals — where a player inserts money, selects a game, and places a wager — are popping up at gas stations, convenience stores, and other non-casino establishments. Earlier this year, the Gaming Commission voted to classify the slot-like machines as “gambling devices.” Gambling devices are only allowed in licensed casinos — of which there are 13 in Missouri — making the terminals illegal. 

However, the Missouri Gaming Commission said it can only police establishments with bingo licenses. The Missouri Department of Public Safety, which oversees liquor licenses, has no authority to seize gambling devices, per a 2000 court ruling. 

This leaves regulating the illegal slot machines to county prosecutors. 

Rep. LaKeySha Bosley, a Democrat, noted there are at least five locations in her district with the terminals. 

“These illegal machines are everywhere. … I have several of them in my district,” GOP Rep. Dan Shaul, the committee chair, said. “We’ve been letting this happen. We have allowed this industry to grow.”

The question he wanted to know: “What do we do [about] it?”

Grothaus told the seven-member committee the state needs “a very focused effort on these illegal machines.” Though, he added, there is no easy solution with the diverse viewpoints of stakeholders.  

The illegal slot machines are negatively impacting casinos which, in turn, reduces taxes collected by the state for education and veterans, according to Grothaus.  

The hearing was just one of the several planned throughout the interim to give lawmakers an in-depth look at gaming in the state.

“We are going to try and learn as much as we can, here in this room, over the next few months about gaming and figure out what we can do to help,” Shaul said. 

The next meeting is scheduled for Sept. 5 to hear from the Missouri Lottery. Hearings are also scheduled on Oct. 10 to learn about enforcement and prosecution, Oct. 24 for sports betting, and Nov. 7 to hear from Major League Baseball.