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Gambling in Missouri


Like many countries, Missouri had a long history with gambling even before bringing back the industry in a regulated form in recent years. That has led to a transformation for the state into a full casino hot spot, similarly to its almost-neighbor Mississippi, along with offering several other gambling options that are common in most of the United States. So far, that doesn’t mean that the state has made any ventures into the world of online gaming, though, and it appears unlikely that regulation will be coming in that area anytime soon.

Riverboats Lead to Resorts

The modern casino industry in Missouri dates back to 1991. That’s when the legislature barely managed to pass a bill that would allow voters to determine whether the state could host riverboat gambling in order to help fund educational programs. From the beginning, the proposal was controversial, and that only became clearer over the next few years.

In 1992, voters indeed approved the referendum, and did so by a surprising margin, with more than 60% of voters backing the proposal. The next year, with a few minor amendments, Governor Mel Carnahan signed the bill into law, and it appeared that riverboat games would begin.

But progress is rarely simple, and before long, a clear problem emerged. The law that was passed allowed only for games of skill, and not for those of chance, an interpretation that was supported by a ruling from the Missouri Supreme Court. That meant that while games such as blackjack, craps, and poker would be allowed, slot machines could not be a part of the riverboats: something that sent operators into a panic.

Attempts were made to pass a constitutional amendment to fix what the industry saw as a major problem, but this time, voters weren’t on their side: a referendum saw the proposal rejected, and when the first casino games were launched on the Admiral riverboat in May, 1994, no slots were present. Several more casinos would open in the months to come, all offering the same limited number of games.

That November, voters were given another opportunity to approve games of chance, and this time, the outcome was different: Missourians amended their constitution to allow a complete range of gambling options on the boats. Over the next few years, more changes to state law would expand the industry: restrictions on the hours of operation were lifted, and the boats were allowed to be placed on artificial moats rather than on river waters.

More changes were in store as time moved on. Central to the original passage of the gambling laws was the idea that players would be limited in their losses, both by restrictions on when they could “board” the casino boats and by a strict $500 loss limit. For many years, officials claimed that they had no interest in getting rid of that limit, but it was eventually repealed by voters in 2008, after the gaming industry waged a long campaign against the protections.

Today, the landscape has transformed from a few quaint riverboats to full resorts throughout Missouri creating a panorama similar to California, with 13 venues located in various cities including St. Louis and Kansas City. While many lament the fact that the current resorts look nothing like what was originally envisioned, there is no denying the billions in revenue that they have brought in over the past two decades.

Also available is a standard government-run lottery, which was approved by Missouri voters in 1984. Drawings have been ongoing since 1986, and the state participates in nationwide games like Mega Millions and Powerball. Interestingly, there is no horse racing here at present; while there have been discussions about reviving the racing industry in recent years, little progress has been made on this front.

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Online Regulation Appears Unlikely

While Missouri may have slowly come to accept a rather strong land-based gaming presence, it is unlikely that Internet gambling will be received so warmly anytime soon. While some lawmakers have mentioned the possibility from time to time, there hasn’t been any momentum building towards regulation, and no legislation has been introduced on the topic here.

Still, that doesn’t mean that players in the state are completely out of luck if they want to play online. Many operators who run websites from overseas jurisdictions allow Missourians to play for real money. While there may not be a framework in which these sites can obtain a license in the state, they also know that there aren’t any laws preventing players from playing real money online casino games, and happily accept them just as they do players from around the world.

Little Expected to Change in Near Future

While it’s hard to imagine that Missouri’s gaming landscape won’t continue to evolve in the years to come, there are no obvious issues to resolve or controversies to settle in the near future. That means that, at least for the time being, things are likely to stay as they are in the Show-Me State.

What could potentially come up for discussion? There is always the question of whether the casinos have gone too far in tearing down the initial restrictions that guided their growth. There has been criticism, for instance, of how little money has been set aside for problem gamblers, and even the rules on self-exclusion have been loosened over the years. But there doesn’t seem to be any reason to believe that there will actually be pushback against the resorts – at least, not any time soon.

On the other hand, online gambling in Missouri doesn’t seem to have much support from politicians, and we do not expect legislators to take up the issue of regulation in the near future. While Missouri could eventually find itself as part of a wave of nationwide Internet casino expansion, unfortunately, we will be rather far down the list of states to join in.


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