On a trip to Las Vegas to visit a relative last year I stepped into a convenience store to buy a bottle of water and was stunned to find a row of slot machines on one of the walls. Fly into Vegas, and right when you get off the plane you are met with rows upon rows of slot machines. Go to the grocery store. . . Yep, you can push a button and the slots roll.

In Vegas, slots are everywhere, and despite being taken aback a bit by their proliferation, after all, it is Vegas and you should expect it.

I don’t expect it in Missouri.

I am not a gambler but don’t judge folks who enjoy the chance to head to a casino. Most Missourians believe that way, and in 1994 Missourians approved casinos by a ballot initiative. They voted again in 2008 to limit the number of casinos to 13, an odd choice of a number when you are talking gaming, if you ask me.

If you want to gamble, there are casinos a relatively short drive from most anywhere in Missouri. Now along comes HB 423. Have you heard of it? The bill proposes expansion of gambling in Missouri that would bypass voters.

If the bill sponsors have their way, legislators will vote on expansion of gambling, authorizing what the Missouri Gaming Association in an April 12 press release describes as “the largest expansion of gambling since the Missouri casino industry was established in 1994, allowing thousands of new lottery slot machines at retail establishments throughout the state.”

Wow. The bill would, according to the MGA, “permit slot machines on every street corner where a restaurant, bar, convenience store or truck stop is located.”

Let me stop right here and say I haven’t read or seen anything from the bill sponsors, and we journalists like to present both sides of the story.

Obviously, the MGA has a big stake in this. If you can go down to the local bar and grill to play a game of chance, why in the name of black jack would you want to hop in your car and drive an hour or more to lose your money?

Anyway, it just doesn’t seem right to me to see slot machines all over rural Missouri. Gambling isn’t my idea of fun nor is it a sound way to invest your money, but if you find it entertaining, live and let live.

Back to HB 423. It is all about the money. If the bill passes and we have slot machines on every corner pulling in taxable dollars, the state will rake in the cash, probably even more cash than they currently receive from casinos. If the bill passes, casinos will likely feel the pinch of competition.

“These machines look and play just like slot machines,” said Mike Winter, executive director of the Missouri Gaming Association. “If this bill passes, we can expect to see them in every city, town or community across the state. Missouri could very quickly have more slot machines outside of casinos than inside them.”

I agree with Winter when he says that HB 423 is not the kind of gambling Missouri voters approved in 1994, nor in 2008 when they restricted gambling in Missouri by restricting the number of casinos.

Missouri casinos are heavily regulated, you have to be 21 to gamble and they at least make a stab at promoting responsible gaming. That would not be the case if there were slots all over every town in the state. Oversight would be impossible.

“The proposed regulations, security and oversight are simply inadequate,” Winter said. “This gambling expansion would bypass not only our state’s voters but also our strong gaming commission, which establishes and enforces strict gambling regulations in our casinos.”

I have always felt that tax money derived from gaming – casinos, lotteries or whatever – is a regressive tax. HB 423 as the MGA describes it is a bad bill, and I don’t see any legislators out there pushing or explaining it. It appears to simply be another way for our state legislators to increase revenue, but I am willing to listen to the other side of the story.

Imagine taking the kids out to eat after the soccer game Saturday afternoon and walking into a restaurant with a wall of slot machines. That works for Vegas, and the casinos if you want to go there, but it doesn’t work for most of Missouri.