Missouri Gaming Commission Unsure About Legalization of Slot Machines

Missouri lawmakers have been struggling for more than four years to reach an agreement on expanding the gambling industry in the state. The current conversations mainly involve banning illegal gas station gambling machines and legalizing sports betting and slot machines in truck stops and fraternities. Judging by the contradictory laws that have been passed, it is clear that the Legislature does not always see eye to eye.

There are only three weeks left in the annual session of the General Assembly and there is still almost no resolution of the issues. To add to the disagreements, Mike Leara, the head of the Missouri Gaming Commission, expressed his concerns about the legalization of slot machines.

As Senator Denny Hoskins was planning to run legislation in the Senate on Monday, Leara noted that the regulator does not have enough staff members to handle the regulation of slot machines if they are legalized. The proposed bill covers the ban of untaxed gaming machines that are widely spread across the state and the extension of gambling in Missouri by legalizing sports betting and slot machines.

If the proposed bill is passed, regulated slot machines will be available at truck stops and fraternal organizations. Each facility will be allowed to offer up to five slot machines and it will be up to the Gaming Commission to regulate and tax this sector.

Gaming Commission Understaffed, Cannot Properly Regulate Slot Machines

Unfortunately, due to the global pandemic, last year, the regulator body was forced to lay off more than two dozen workers. This was the result of the decrease in revenue due to the 13 Missouri-based casinos closing down during the lockdown period. Since the Gaming Commission’s staff was significantly cut down, Leara expressed concerns about the agency being able to handle more tasks related to the possible legalization of slot machines.

Since PASPA was revoked in 2018, many states neighboring Missouri legalized sports betting and are able to earn money through betting-related taxes and fees. Meanwhile, some states have also allowed slot machines outside brick-and-mortar casinos, with Illinois offering such games in facilities like bars, restaurants, truck stops, retail stores, and other locations.

If the bill is approved, it could generate enough funds to help the Gaming Commission to expand its current staff and regulate slot machines. This being said, the budget proposed by the Legislature for the fiscal year that starts on July 1 does not include new hirings. This indicates that it is possible for the legalization of slot machines and sports betting in Missouri to be postponed due to the dearth of employees in the Gaming Commission.

Passing the bill and legalizing slot machines and sports betting would mean hiring more employees in the Mental Health sector as well. If the gambling industry in Missouri expands, this would mean that the need for more problem gambling counseling providers will be higher. While the state is currently offering 12 compulsive gambling counselors, according to a Department of Mental Health report, with the legalization of sports betting and slot machines, the state will need 25 additional compulsive gambling counselors.