It’s hard to believe that Missouri’s riverboat casinos first set sail more than a quarter century ago, in the summer of 1994.

Yes, kids, these riverboats actually chugged up and down the river, until casino owners realized it wasn’t good business to have paying customers waiting at the dock, no slot machine in sight. The river is managed a little differently now, anyway.

We can’t call 26 years of riverboat gaming an unqualified success. The 19th century paddleboat image proved illusory, and the benefits to schools were overplayed. Some people walk out of the casino with empty pockets, to the detriment of families and businesses.

But as casino gambling became established, Missourians came to accept it as a well-regulated and professionally operated industry. State statute sets clear boundaries on what can and what cannot be done. There’s a high level of transparency, with the Missouri Gaming Commission website making it easy to learn the slot payout and percentages at each of the state’s 13 licensed casino facilities. It’s also easy to see the ownership of each casino licensee, which helps to avoid whispers about someone getting special favors.

Regardless of whether you enjoy slots or blackjack on your time off, this creates a sense of confidence.

It’s a stark contrast to another industry that’s emerging into the light of public acceptance. Like casino gambling, it took a vote of the people to legalize medical marijuana in the state of Missouri.

Unlike casinos, the marijuana roll-out has been beset with questions about inconsistencies in the process for awarding licenses. The third-party entity that was hired to score applications has ties to an unaccredited California company that offers courses in the cannabis industry, which isn’t exactly a confidence builder. Good luck figuring out who owns or invests in any of the businesses that were awarded licenses to grow, make or sell medical marijuana.

It was unrealistic to believe most medical marijuana applicants wouldn’t walk away unhappy, but Missourians can be forgiven for losing faith after the way this has gone down. At the very least, the state Department of Health should take a page from the Missouri Gaming Commission’s regulatory playbook, with more public meetings, more information on its website and heavy involvement from law enforcement.

The medical cannabis industry should even allow Missourians to freely choose to impose a self-ban from dispensaries, much like the voluntary casino exclusion list for problem gamblers.

We’re not blowing smoke in your eyes. The Missouri Gaming Commission would do a better job regulating medical marijuana.


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