These last couple of weeks have been an interesting time. I have been involved in many activities including, the Walk for Life, judging the Navy chili cook-off, cheering on the Chiefs and numerous hearings, including those for which I am presenting my own bills. I could write three columns about what I have been doing, but lately I have been hearing an overwhelming amount of concern about upcoming gambling bills.
There are three types of gambling bills that are being discussed: those relating to the existing, unregulated slot machines; video lottery terminals, similar to what is on the gambling boats; and online sports betting.
Existing, unregulated gambling machines are an issue that must be dealt with. Many probably aren't aware there are more than 14,000 existing gambling machines around the state of Missouri. They are in Jefferson City and surrounding communities, and these machines function similar to the slot machines you might find at a casino: You place money in hoping to get more out. They are totally unregulated, meaning they can pay out whatever they want. It can be zero, 10 percent of its income or 50 percent. From personal experience, I have clients who often lose hundreds of dollars during morning hours in Jefferson City on slot machines.
Bills have been proposed that seek to allow gambling machines but regulate them, while other bills have been introduced seeking to eliminate them entirely. Proponents of bills that allow these gambling machines contend 1) many Missourians actually want to play them, 2) many fraternal organizations rely upon them for income, 3) they can be regulated by, for example, setting a minimum average payout, 4) they are an additional source of revenue for many businesses. Those who have written me who oppose gambling machines believe 1) they are a moral deficit to society, 2) they are unconstitutional, and 3) they often prey upon people who are vulnerable.
There is some debate about whether the present, unregulated machines are constitutional. This issue must ultimately be left up to the courts. However, we must continue to work on legislation relating to these machines should the courts find them constitutional.
There is some debate about whether the present machines are illegal gambling, but I don't think there is any debate that the issue needs to be addressed. In my opinion, it clearly takes advantage of individuals. There is no tax paid or collected on it, and it more than looks like gambling — it is illegal gambling, and it is literally using a stacked deck to take money from the vulnerable. In my position on the government oversight committee, I am seeing these bills debated and put to a vote to go to the house floor. I am supporting bills that put a stop to this unregulated activity.
While I personally would like to see these machines eliminated, if they must exist, they need to be regulated. We can regulate these machines in a few ways. First, we can impose an average minimum payout on the machines, meaning they cannot simply payout whatever they want. Second, there must be age requirements for those who want to play. Third, there must be regulations on where the machines can be placed. Fourth, if we must allow them, we must make sure the law and regulations surrounding them are clear so that prosecutors have the ability to prosecute those who violate the law. Finally, we can and should allow the government to revoke the liquor licenses of those who violate gambling laws as an additional incentive to comply with the law.
Sports betting is another issue drawing a lot of attention right now. At the moment, it is illegal for Missourians to place bets on sporting events whether in person or on the internet, and it is illegal for businesses to take those bets. The arguments for sports betting are 1) states surrounding us are going to do it, and 2) those who want to are already doing it over the internet and this state is not deriving any of the revenue that could be raised by regulating it. Regardless of whether you think it should exist, it definitely needs to be regulated.
There have been some who have proposed a royalty on sports betting that would be given to the various sporting entities like the NFL, NBA and MLB. I cannot understand why we as a state would do that. I filed an amendment that revoked this royalty going to the professional organizations because it seems to me the government should be trying to help its people, not major sporting entities, which seem to be doing very well, and further, no other state does this. I believe this money would be much better directed to our schools than these organizations.
There is also quite a bit of debate on an issue called "single data source." This issue is quite complicated for the limited space I have in this column, but it is important. If you want to know more, please contact me at the Capitol.
There are many sides to all of these issues. My highest priority is getting rid of the illegal machines, but if it becomes clear that these bills will pass despite my best efforts, I want to try to limit the adverse effects of these bills as much as possible. Oftentimes, I decide to vote a certain way on an amendment or bill because it is the best way to limit what I perceive to be the bad effects of the bill. It does not mean I am fully in support of it, but it is done sometimes to recognize there are enough individuals who do not agree with me that it is best to work to solve as much of the problem as we can.
I know that times change, but I am still trying to understand how something that for so many years was seen to be so morally wrong and so bad for society that we punished it as a crime suddenly becomes OK if we can tax it.
State Rep. Rudy Veit, R-Jefferson City, represents the 59th District, and shares his perspective on statehouse issues twice a month.