Over the past few years, I have been noticing a shocking trend plaguing our communities. Cropping up everywhere are video lottery terminals (VLTs) at convenience stores, strip malls, and bars across the state. These VLTs are gambling devices designed to pay out to customers at specific, random times when customers play.
As a conservative, I am concerned about the spread of gambling throughout the state and into our local communities. These VLTs exist largely unregulated, and in some instances, downright illegally in rest stops across the state. They are turning areas of public accommodation into makeshift casinos. I have heard horror stories of people becoming addicted to these terminals. People can cash their checks on Friday, walk into the nearest convenience station, and sit in front of a machine for hours, hoping for a payout. I do not think that gambling should be spread throughout local communities like this.
Even more concerning is the fact that young children are exposed to gambling in these very public areas. These VLTs are a danger to our children because it can entice them to start gambling without supervision. Technically speaking, only adults are allowed to play at these VLT stations. However, the priorities of gas station clerks and bartenders are not focused on monitoring the VLT stations. It is easily conceivable that a 14-year old with their own debit card (or their parents’) could sit at this machine for hours and slowly become addicted to gambling, all without supervision.
These VLTs pose a new risk of gambling addiction and illegal gambling not seen elsewhere in this state. There is a reason Missouri voters approved gambling in Casinos–casinos are only open to adults, they are regulable, and they enforce rules and procedures. Furthermore, the Casinos create income, jobs, and tax revenue for a local community. These VLTs, however, only create jobs for the 1 or 2 technicians who service the machines, and the money is largely kept by the owners of the machines. The risks of the machines far outweigh the rewards in these circumstances.
There are no gatekeepers or supervisors for these VLT machines, children can largely walk up and start playing. We have a duty to raise our children properly, and where it is apparent there is a risk of exposing gambling to young minds in so many public places, then we must take action to protect our kids and communities from these dangers. Our government should take action to police and crack down the illegal expansion of these machines, and Missourians should be wary of attempts to legalize and expand the use of VLTs. Whatever promised benefits are far outweighed by the risk of degradation of our neighborhoods and the risks of gambling addiction it imposes.
Bill Owen is a candidate for Missouri HD 131.