Missouri’s 13 casinos went dark on March 17, closed alongside so many public establishments to protect the health of casino employees and patrons during the COVID-19 pandemic.
We understand that this decision, made by Gov. Mike Parson in consultation with the Missouri Gaming Commission, was a difficult one. After all, closing casinos means the state will lose as much as $1 million a day in casino tax revenue earmarked for education, veterans’ and other public programs.
Surprisingly, even with Missouri casinos, restaurant dining rooms and many retail stores closed, more than 14,000 illegal slot machines continue to be played across the state.
The cleanliness of these illegal slot machines is questionable. Often lined up one right next to the other in gas stations, bars and restaurants, the machines are not owned by those businesses. Rather, they are owned by gambling device manufacturers who are putting into play illegal slot machines across Missouri.
At gas stations, busy clerks are the gatekeepers and cleaners of these devices, if that role is even assigned. A National Institutes of Health study showed that COVID-19 can live up to three days on plastic and stainless steel; at least one gas station worker in Missouri reportedly has been infected with the virus.
There also is no supervision over who uses the slot machines. Among the hundreds of businesses with illegal slot machines reported to the Missouri Highway Patrol is an establishment in Troy, Missouri, where the very young children of an employee regularly play the machines.
Unlike casinos, illegal slot machines do not generate taxes to fund public education or other state programs. Slot machines in locations outside casinos have exploded in our neighboring state of Illinois since 2009, resulting in a $70 million decline in casino tax revenue for education. Illinois banned video gaming in mid-March in response to the COVID-19 virus.
The Missouri Gaming Association calls for the state to shut down these unregulated and illegal slot machines, for the safety of our residents. We also support legislation to eliminate illegal slot machines altogether. Doing so would end the loss of casino tax revenue that will be so urgently needed by Missouri public schools and our veterans once this health crisis has passed.
Mike Winter, Executive Director
Missouri Gaming Association