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Opinion: Supporting slot machines in neighborhood grocery stores and gas stations isn’t conservative.

When I was young, Conservatives fought to prevent the establishment of a state lottery in Missouri. Conservatives also fought against the establishment of casinos in our state.

This opposition to gambling was based on a conservative work ethic that valued reliance upon self determination rather than chance. Additionally, the exploitation of others for personal gain was seen as unethical and immoral. Caring for one’s fellow citizens meant desiring their well-being, and with gambling, the odds just wouldn’t be in their favor.

But strangely, over the past few decades, conservatives have forsaken their aversion to gambling, and in this legislative session have offered numerous bills to expand “gaming” on several fronts. One such bill comes from Denny Hoskins (R-21) whose proposed legislation would allow slot machines in gas stations, grocery stores, and other establishments.

This is obviously contrary to conservative principles. But there is hope. The Missouri Senate Appropriations Committee recently voted to shoot down Sen. Hoskins SB 1, the bill that would allow “Video Lottery Terminals”, also known as slot machines. The vote was a resounding 10-2, to kill the bill. Even Sen. Hoskins, voted against his own bill!

One is left wondering if the committee vote on slot machines reflects a return to conservative principles, or if it was merely a concern over the way the legislation was written. In fact, during the hearing, the sponsor noted his concern about problem gaming while at the same time, sponsoring the largest gaming expansion in 30 years.

During discussion regarding the legislation, proponents made the same promises that we have heard before – “it will be good for the kids” and “It will be good for veterans.” Perhaps this is why the bill was dishonestly titled “Honoring Missouri Veterans and Supporting Missouri Education Act”. It had far more to do with gambling than supporting veterans or education. Using the guise of issues that the majority of Missourians do indeed care about to gain acceptance for issues they oppose is blatantly dishonest.

These machines attract crime. One witness who had previously lived in Wichita, spoke of robberies and murders as it relates to these machines and the clientele and cash they attract. Others offering testimony before the committee bemoaned the fact that their businesses were struggling to survive in the current economy and that the machines were necessary to supplement the existing business model. But when did conservatives start thinking that government sanctioned gaming was the means to support independent business?

These machines do not solve any financial struggles for small business nor for the state. In calendar year 2022, the state of Illinois saw $31.8 billion wagered in slot machines, which generated just shy of $786 million in state revenue. But the state of Illinois still has huge budget shortfalls. Missouri has a population of 6.1 million, about two thirds of Illinois’ 9.8 million. All other factors being equal, then, Missouri could expect a tax on slot machines to be around $518 million.

In special session last fall, the state legislature passed an income tax reduction which, when fully implemented will result in a loss of income to the state of around $764 million. So the rationale of the state legislature seems to be that a cut of $764 million in income tax needs to be replaced by $518 million in gaming revenue. I don’t believe that is wise for anyone concerned.

Following the committee’s vote, the sponsor took to the senate floor to say the process was unfair. Inside the Senate walls in Jefferson City, there’s a saying that “Whatever is morally wrong cannot be politically right.” Apparently, there are some in the Senate who think that honesty is not a moral issue, or at least that it should not stand in the way of political expediency.

A recent poll of Republican primary voters in the state showed that 58% of likely voters OPPOSE slot machines in gas stations, convenience stores, bars and taverns. Furthermore, 69% of “very conservative” voters, key to winning GOP primaries, are opposed.

For those of us in the faith community, 76% of voters that attend church on a weekly basis, oppose slot machines inside of these establishments. I think so-called conservative politicians should take these polling results as a harbinger of what’s to come for those seeking statewide office that support these bad policies.

While some may dismiss the views of people of faith, it should be noted that the Missouri Baptist Convention, along with other faith groups that oppose gambling, such as the Assemblies of God, Methodists, and others, make up a sizeable contingent of voters and a vital part of the fabric of Missouri.

I hope others – not just people of faith, but all who value quality of life and fiscal responsibility – will stand with me against this proposal and current illegal slot machines. It is a loss for our state and not something we should be known for. It is my hope that politicians will understand the ongoing risks involved, before it is too late.