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Missouri —and more specifically, Jefferson City — has had a love-hate relationship with gambling.

In 1984, state voters authorized the Missouri Lottery, making it the 23rd statewide lottery.

A decade later, both city and state voters approved riverboat gambling at the same election. Gambling opponents, surprised at the outcome, formed opposition and brought the issue back to the ballot. Voters reversed course, creating a sticky mess with a Las Vegas developer it had contracted with to put a gambling boat not far from the Capitol.

Missouri voters approved pari-mutuel wagering at horse tracks in 1984 but authorized only limited simulcasting. That's where people wager on races shown on television screens, not live races. In 2008, the long-defunct Missouri Horse Racing Commission met for the first time in a decade to try to revive the idea of bringing live horse racing to Missouri. The push didn't get to the starting gate.

Some local churches, like national ones, staunchly oppose gambling. But that hasn't stopped its spread.

One lawmaker wants to bring riverboat gambling to Lake of the Ozarks.

Also, our state is looking at sports betting, which will likely be a topic during the newly started legislative session.

Meanwhile, the state is in a quandary over the spread of unregulated and untaxed video gambling terminals. You can find them at gas stations and convenience stores throughout the state. The industry responsible has apparently tweaked what is similar to slot machines in an attempt to make them legal.

The Missouri Highway Patrol maintains they're illegal. Gov. Mike Parson said he's not convinced, and a court case could help determine whether they are games of chance (illegal) or games of skill (legal).

The Missouri Lottery, which has seen a revenue decline in recent months, fears the machines are eating into their profits. They want the machines gone. They've gone so far as to warn retailers that they could face prosecution for having them in their stores.

(The Lottery already is dealing with an advertising budget that has been slashed from $16 million to $5 million by the Legislature.)

We're no lawyers, but we believe the industry promoting the gambling machines may have ingeniously come up with a loophole to allow their gambling devices.

All of this brings up the question: Should our state be so concerned with limiting gambling?

Don't get us wrong: We're not big fans of gambling in any form. There's not much redeeming about it morally or financially. It seems like the people who can least afford to gamble are the ones spending the most amount of money.

But we can't put the genie back in the bottle; it's here to stay. Government can't protect us from ourselves on this one, and it can't legislate morality.

So why not let the free market reign? Set the necessary regulations, collect the taxes and let the chips fall where they may.

News Tribune

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