Missouri is a state defined by its geography. No state is more synonymous with its waterways than the Show Me State. The Mississippi and Missouri rivers define the eastern and a portion of the western borders of the state. Mark Twain, one of Missouri’s most famous residents, took his pen name from a cry often heard on riverboats.
Fittingly, Missouri’s casino scene is entirely based on its rivers. Missourians have the option of playing their favorite games at 13 riverboats along these two waterways. The laws also allow for artificial moats or bodies of water, which has allowed for some rather reaching interpretations of what constitutes a riverboat. However, declining casino revenue in Missouri is causing concern for decision-makers in the state.
One way to change things is by introducing sports betting. Recently, a pair of bills to legalize wagering within state borders were introduced in the state Senate. However, the elephant in the room appears to be who should regulate, the Missouri Lottery Commission or the Missouri Gaming Commission. Lawmakers will also have to determine is the infamous “integrity fee” should be part of any sports wagering bill.
While there are numerous hurdles before any type of bets can be placed, Missourians can be glad the conversations have at least begun.
Like many states, Missouri does not expressly codify whether online gambling is permitted. As such, online gambling exists in a sort of gray area.
Missourians can access some of the offshore sites available (though not all – the Merge network is notably restricted). But because Missouri law is so specific to riverboat gambling, it is a dodgy enterprise to try to use these sites. At any point, the powers that be could decide that the current law covers and prohibits online gambling and crack down on players. Some of the state’s lawmakers have made negative comments toward online gambling, so tread lightly.
Likely online gambling operators
|Operator||Properties Owned/Managed in MO|
|Pinnacle Entertainment||Ameristar Kansas City
Ameristar St. Charles
River City Casino & Hotel
|Penn National Gaming||Argosy Casino Hotel and Spa
Hollywood Casino St. Louis
|Caesars Entertainment||Harrah’s North Kansas City|
|Isle of Capri Casinos||Isle of Capri – Boonville
Isle Casino – Cape Girardeau
Isle of Capri – Kansas City
Lady Luck Casino
|Tropicana Entertainment||Lumiere Place Casino & Hotel|
|Affinity Gaming||Mark Twain Casino
St. Jo Frontier
Social casino options
All the expected social casino options are available in Missouri. Double Down, Zynga, Slotomania, and Big Fish all operate through Facebook or mobile devices. Missourians can also play the MyVegas app. This allows them to earn actual casino comps at MGM properties. Though no MGM properties exist in Missouri, it’s still nice to have the option to earn real rewards.
Finally, as with all Penn National properties, they offer a free option to try out their slot machines online. This utility is strictly for entertainment. However it can provide players with a sneak preview of the games they’ll find at Argosy or Hollywood casinos.
State casino operator history
Missouri’s first movement into gaming occurred with the legalization of charitable gambling in 1980, which allowed the debut of bingo halls and raffles in the state. Then, in 1986 voters adopted the state lottery with a 70 percent approval rating. Gaming’s popularity was accelerating in the Show Me State, and in 1992 the first gaming law was approved to allow riverboat gambling.
However, this law was eventually struck down by state courts as improper because changes to the notion of “games of chance” could only be done by amending the state constitution. For many ballot initiatives, a loss in court spells the end of the push for the measure. But Missouri remained undaunted and two years later, in 1994, the Missouri Riverboat Gambling Amendment passed a referendum with 54 percent of the vote.
The amendment permitted the legislature to allow operators on the Mississippi and Missouri rivers to offer all manner of slot machines, table games, poker, and other games of chance. A subsequent amendment in 1998 allowed for the possibility of creating artificial moats or ponds to support riverboat play. This has created the odd situation of buildings with fake smokestacks and other accoutrements nominally being called riverboats, even though they are not seaworthy in any sense. Often, the water upon which they rest is little more than a shallow pool or pond. Operators have even poked fun at this distinction, going so far (in one case) of proudly filling the moat with an open fire hydrant.
However, the lawmakers in the state have shown no desire to check this sort of hubris. Although some residents are grumbling about this use of a loophole in the birthplace of Mark Twain. Nevertheless, Missouri enjoys the services of 13 riverboat casinos, including locations directly in the middle of its largest cities.
Kansas City, Missouri’s largest, has two casinos within its limits and two more in suburban areas. St. Louis, the second largest, also has two casinos in its city proper and two others not far away. Three of the other properties hug the eastern border of Missouri and allow access to residents of southwestern Illinois (including Springfield), western Kentucky, western Tennessee (including Memphis), and northeastern Arkansas. A final location, Isle of Capri Boonville, resides on the east-west bend of the Missouri River. This location cuts through the waistline of the state and serves central Missourians, including residents of Columbia, Missouri’s fifth largest city.
Most of the main operators in Missouri are known for operating other regional casinos, outside of the typical locales (like Las Vegas or Atlantic City). Pinnacle Entertainment owns and operates the two largest casinos in the state under its Ameristar brand. Its Kansas City location features 140,000 square feet of gaming space, with 2,200 slot machines, 66 table games, and a 16-table poker room. The St. Louis location is only slightly smaller. It has 130,000 square feet of casino to use and its poker room is actually three tables larger. Both Ameristar properties are scheduled to host tournaments on the Heartland Poker Tour. The St. Louis location hosted two events in 2017.
Interestingly enough, it is illegal for someone to identify themselves as a “professional player” in the state of Missouri. The statute defines a professional player as someone who gambles for their livelihood or derives 20 percent or more of their income in any one year of the last five from gambling. This statute might have some implications beyond in-state gambling, too, however, because of the uncertainty associated with a Missouri resident scoring a big win, either at slots, table games, or poker tournaments.
The 2017 fiscal year disclosure shows an overall reduction in state casino revenues of 2.5 percent from the previous year. Furthermore, the contribution from gambling revenue to education (one of the selling points of legalizing gambling in many states) seems to be no better than the adjustments expected from inflation.
Several education officials in the state chafe at the idea that education in Missouri is tied to the fortunes of the gaming industry, especially since schools are still suffering budget shortfalls. The proliferation of nearby casinos is also hurting the Missouri properties’ bottom lines.
That said, there is no reason to suspect that Missouri casinos are going away. Late in 2016, Inner Circle Investments announced its intention to open a casino and expo center in St. Joseph. While a reduction in revenue did occur in the last year, the pullback followed a 7 percent increase in revenue from 2015 to 2016. So, Missouri’s casino market, 11th largest in the US, should be fine. It will continue to offer options to residents and visitors alike. Below is a list of all the Missouri casinos.
Riverboat casinos in Missouri
|Ameristar Casino Resort Spa||St. Charles||BJ, C, R, P, S, 3C, PGP, B|
|Ameristar Casino Hotel||Kansas City||BJ, C, R, P, S, B, MBac, LR, PGP|
|Argosy Casino Hotel & Spa||Riverside||BJ, C, R, S, PGP, MS|
|Harrah’s North Kansas City||Kansas City||BJ, C, R, P, S, MBac, “Texas Shootout” – similar to THB|
|Hollywood Casino St. Louis||Maryland Heights||BJ, C, R, P, S, B, LR, HCF|
|Isle of Capri Casino Hotel||Boonville||BJ, C, R, S, MS, LR, Flop Poker|
|Isle Casino Cape Girardeau||Cape Girardeau||BJ, C, R, P, S, HCF, 3C, MS, MBac, EZ Baccarat|
|Isle of Capri Casino Hotel||Kansas City||BJ, C, R, S, MS, UTH, Three Card Prime, Six Card Poker|
|Lady Luck Casino||Caruthersville||BJ, C, R, S, MS, 3C|
|Lumiere Place Casino & Hotel||St. Louis||BJ, C, R, P, S, 4C, LR, PGP, UTH, 3C|
|Mark Twain Casino||La Grange||BJ, C, R, S, C4, UTH, High Five Poker,|
|River City Casino & Hotel||St. Louis||BJ, C, R, S, B, Four Card Prime, PGP, UTH, 3C, MS|
|St. Jo Frontier Casino||St. Joseph||BJ, C, R, S, Texas Shootout, MS|
*Craps (C), Blackjack (BJ), Roulette (R), Baccarat (B), Poker (P), Slots (S), Mini-Baccarat (MBac), Pai Gow Poker (PGP), Pai Gow Tiles (PGT), Let It Ride (LR), Caribbean Stud Poker (CS), Crazy 4 Poker (C4), 3 Card Poker (3C), 4 Card Poker (4C), Ultimate Texas Hold’em (UTH), High Card Flush (HCF), Mississippi Stud (MS), Texas Hold’em Bonus (THB), Big Six Wheel (B6)
State legal environment
|Permitted/Offered?||Notes & Restrictions|
|Land-Based Gambling||Yes||Riverboat gambling only|
|Lottery||Yes||State and multistate drawings offered|
|Charitable or House-Based Gambling||Yes||Bingo and raffles|
|Minimum Gambling Age||21 for casinos; 18 for lottery; 16 for bingo|