MIssouri legislators this coming week plan a hearing on slot machines and other gambling devices – apparently illegal, by all accounts – that have appeared by the hundreds at bars, convenience stores and elsewhere across the state.

The Missouri Gaming Commission has taken 84 complaints from the public, and that commission has determined that these are gambling devices, despite the claims of the company that owns them. That means they are supposed to fall under state rules that confine slot machines and poker to the “riverboat” casinos.

The Missouri State Highway Patrol initially said it couldn’t do much because it lacked the authority to confiscate such machines, but then this week it came to light that the Highway Patrol is investigating dozens of these cases.

State officials have said it appears these machines are draining millions in taxes that should be going to schools.

Local officials here and there have barked loudly about getting these machines out of their communities, but actual prosecutions appear at or near zero.

Legislators at the upcoming hearing have an obligation to shed light on several questions: How did this happen? If the idea that voter-approved gambling – lottery games, casinos – would be limited, taxed and closely regulated, how is it that we have a system in which a company can place these machines with impunity? Why is the system unable or unwilling to react quickly and appropriately? How does the state go back and collect taxes that should have gone to education?