Legal Gambling in Missouri

An Overview Of The Gambling Laws In The State Of Missouri

Missouri was part of riverboat casino history during the 19th century, and voted to bring back the boats in 1992. While they no longer sail, the casino industry is alive and well in this State, with 16 venues to choose from. Alternative gambling formats include a popular lottery and charitable gambling games like bingo and raffles. This article looks in depth at the gambling laws of Missouri.

First of all below I have put the current legal situation into historical context with a quick-fire overview of the history of Missouri gambling. After this you can find a list of the most popular gambling formats, along with a current legal status. Next some more detailed information can be seen, in the form of excerpts from the statutes and a legal timeline – before this page ends with a summary and look at the future.

Missouri Gambling Laws – A Brief History

When the riverboat casinos of history fizzled out at the end of the 1800’s, Missouri would enter a long period where the only gambling was underground. While pari-mutuel betting on horse racing was permitted, there were no racetracks – so this was only possible at summer fairs on amateur races.

The first new gambling was for charity, with the introduction on Bingo halls and raffles for good causes and non-profits in 1980. This remains an important part of Minnesota’s gaming landscape to this day. In 1986, the first draw was made on the current State lottery – which now includes multi-State games like the PowerBall. Around $3 billion has been raised for good causes since the inception of the lottery – much of it being channeled towards education.

After many quiet years, things exploded in Missouri after a law was passed in 1992 allowing for the return of the riverboat casinos. Initially, these needed to be moving, however after a collision caused safety concerns, this was relaxed – and now all of the 16 running are docked. These are not just small boats, some big and lavish casinos are available – many including table games and poker rooms too. One interesting quirk in the casino laws is a $500 loss limit per player. The casinos did not like this, as obviously it stopped them benefiting from the patronage of high rollers. This was voted against in a 2008 referendum which also increased the taxation on casinos in order to give more to good causes.

Home poker games are permitted under strict terms that the ‘social’ element is present as well as the usual stipulation of nobody raking from the games or charging to host them. If you do not know the other participants in the game socially then you could be in trouble. Penalties exist in the statutes for merely playing in illegal gambling games, and not just organizing them. Fortunately MO does not have a history of raiding these games.

One final quirk in the gambling laws of Missouri, you really can‘t become a professional gambler in this State. Merely making 20% of your income in a year puts you into the ‘pro’ category – and you are now a criminal!

Missouri Gambling Laws – What Forms Of Gambling Are Currently Legal?

Casino Games: Yes, there are a wide choice of riverboat casinos in Missouri, most of these are static nowadays, and offer a wide range of slots and table games.

Online Casinos: No, as usual no internet specific wording is included in the statutes, however the general definitions are considered enough.

Live Poker: There are plenty of poker rooms at the riverboat casinos. Home games are permitted, though the rules are very strict as far as nobody taking a rake or making a profit goes. Strictly speaking, you need to have a social relationship with others in the game, though there is no legal definition provided as to exactly what this means.

Online Poker: No, there are no indications that regulated online poker is being considered. There is also no anti-regulation movement, so success of other States could initiate this debate.

Sports Betting: Pari-mutuel betting on horse racing is allowed at county fairs – there are no racetracks in Missouri.

Lottery Betting: Yes, Missouri has a State lottery which supports good causes including education.

Bingo Games: Yes, there is a carve-out for charity bingo and raffles.

Missouri Gambling Laws – Timeline And Key Statutes

Missouri are on the stricter side compared to other States when it comes to their gambling laws. Interestingly there is little legal protection for being a ‘mere player’ in this State – with the potential for felony charges just for participating in an illegal activity. This State also seems to frown on professional gamblers, who are singled out for criminalization on a very broad definition of 20% of yearly income. Owning a wide range of gambling devices is also punishable under the MO law.

Here is the general definition of gambling, which uses the ‘game of chance’ as its central definition.

“"Gambling", a person engages in "gambling" when he stakes or risks something of value upon the outcome of a contest of chance or a future contingent event not under his control or influence, upon an agreement or understanding that he will receive something of value in the event of a certain outcome. “ (572.010)

I’m sure poker fans will be rubbing their hands waiting to play the ‘Skill Game!’ card, unfortunately this has already been tried in this State and poker is considered to be a game of chance here.

Here is the definition of a professional player, a crime under the MO statutes:

"Professional player" means a player who engages in gambling for a livelihood or who has derived at least twenty percent of his income in any one year within the past five years from acting solely as a player;”

Here is the timeline of significant legal events in the history of Missouri:

1980: Bingo games for charity first made legal.

1985: Lottery becomes law, with the first draw taking place a year later in 1986, there are now many multi-State lottery games available. Proceeds are channeled into education.

1992: Riverboat casinos return after an amendment makes them legal under strict criteria that they are under sail and a cap of $500 losses per player. After some incidents on the water, these boats were allowed to remain docked.

1993: Missouri Gaming Commission created to oversee all forms of gambling within the State.

1994: Charity gambling bought under the control of a newly created ‘Charitable Games Division’ of the Missouri Gaming Commission.

2008: A referendum on ‘Proposition A’ increasing taxes on casinos and removing the $500 loss limit passes with 56.2% of the vote.

Missouri Gambling Laws – Summary And Look To The Future

There are some good opportunities to gamble in Missouri, with the riverboat casinos offering a full range of table games and poker. Outside of these establishments, your options are kind of limited – unless you enjoy charity bingo nights or lottery games that is.

There is no current bill covering internet gambling or poker games, and no public discussion from lawmakers as to when this might happen. Missouri is not anti-gambling – as their casinos show – however they have not yet shown any interest in innovating, sticking with the tried and tested historical riverboat theme. This state is at best a wait-and-see for future online gambling regulation.

Useful Resources:

Full Statutes

Summary Of Statutes

Riverboat Gambling Timeline

Gaming Division History

Gaming Commission

Proposition A Info