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Illegal gambling machines have pervaded our state in recent years. Lawmakers and law enforcers need to address the problem.

The Missouri Gaming Association estimates there are at least 14,000 illegal machines — almost as many as the number of legal ones in the state's 13 casinos.

We understand the Gaming Association's opposition to illegal gambling — all those machines at gas stations, restaurants and truck stops are taking a chunk of profits from the casinos and the Missouri Lottery.

But the public should care, too. These machines aren't regulated or taxed like ones in casinos. So there's nothing to guard against minors or problem gamblers playing and the state isn't getting a financial boost from the unregulated machines.

Unlike the Missouri Lottery, no proceeds from the unregulated machines are being used for education, for instance.

As we recently reported, the machines are similar to slot machines: Players insert money, choose a game and wager, and are usually paid by a business' cashier if they win.

Owners of the machines have tried to get around the law by claiming they have elements of skill, so they aren't games of chance.

However, the Missouri Highway Patrol said otherwise. In June, it confiscated 50 of the machines from two businesses in the Springfield area.

The bust seemed to be a show of force, but it was only the tip of the iceberg. Much more enforcement is needed.

Action from state lawmakers also is needed to clarify the laws. Senate President Pro Tempore Dave Schatz, R-Sullivan, advanced a bill this past session that would have done that. But it never advanced past the Senate floor.

We urge lawmakers to make addressing the problem a priority during the next session.

News Tribune

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