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Illinois video gambling

Video gamblers play the machines at Riverbend Billiards & Grill in Alton. Illinois regulates and taxes pay-out video gaming outside licensed casinos; Missouri does not. 

Photo by Laurie Skrivan, lskrivan@post-dispatch.com

Even as Missouri officials debate whether to join more than a dozen states in allowing sports betting, estimates are rising for the new revenue it would bring the state. Despite ongoing controversy surrounding gambling, few would argue that new revenue isn’t a good thing. The state needs it.

While that debate drags on, state officials also are wrestling with the issue of unlicensed video gambling at bars and truck stops, which purveyors claim shouldn’t be subject to state regulation and taxation. As we have argued before, the purveyors are wrong about that.

As for the broader question of whether the video gambling machines should be allowed to operate at all — and the related question of whether the state’s gambling industry should expand to include legal sports betting — the answer in both cases is the same: Supporting it at this point is little more than a nod to reality. Gambling is here to stay, so regulating and taxing it is better than letting it remain underground and untaxed.

For more than two years, Missouri lawmakers have been debating whether to jump on the bandwagon with at least 18 other states, including Illinois, to allow adult betting on college and professional sports, to be regulated and taxed by the state. The contention mostly isn’t over the merits of expanding legalized gambling but where the money will go.

Newly released information speaks to the importance of settling those issues and getting on with the business of legalizing it. As the Post-Dispatch’s Kurt Erickson reported, numbers presented in a legislative committee indicate legalized sports betting could generate up to $289 million — far higher than previous estimates — based on emerging data from states that have already done it.

Many technical issues need to be worked out. Major League Baseball and other sports leagues want a piece of the action. Other states have declined league demands, and the industry is advising Missouri lawmakers to follow suit. There is also the issue of whether to allow sports betting via cellphone (as opposed to requiring gamblers to go to casinos), which appears to be the future of the industry.

Such details can be worked out under a general premise that allowing and taxing sports gambling is better than keeping it underground, where it draws state revenue away from casino and lottery gambling.

Similarly, the state should quit playing games with the video gamers and create a legal structure in which they can operate — under regulation, with taxation — with gambling laws vigorously enforced against those who continue operating illegally.

The time for debate over legalized gambling has long since passed; that genie is out of the bottle. All the state can do now is ensure it is fair for gamblers and profitable for taxpayers.