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story.lead_photo.caption Peggy Richardson is seen in this November 2016 file photo following her appointment as 26th Judicial Circuit judge in Moniteau County. She was selected April 29, 2021, as the executive director of the Missouri Gaming Commission. (Photo submitted to the California Democrat)

After more than 20 years of service on the bench in Moniteau County, Judge Peggy Richardson is starting a new journey in Jefferson City.

Richardson began her tenure as executive director of the Missouri Gaming Commission May 14; she is the first woman in the role in Missouri Gaming Commission history. Richardson, a Morgan County native and resident of Moniteau County for close to 40 years, served on the 26th Judicial Circuit as both associate circuit judge and circuit judge for 22 years total.

Her career in the judicial system started in 1998, and Richardson said she stepped away in December of last year when her role as circuit judge — to which she was appointed by former Gov. Jay Nixon for a four-year term in 2016 — ended.

"I had planned to retire in 2018 and go do something different," Richardson said from her new office in Jefferson City last Wednesday, less than a week after beginning her new job. "I mean, I always wanted to be a judge. Always, always, always. (I was) blessed to be able to do that. But I was ready to do something different. I didn't know that was going to be being a circuit judge."

Richardson said she had decided during her final term she wanted to retire from the bench, but not from working. She started looking around, and found that the Gaming Commission role was open.

The Gaming Commission, for its part, was excited to bring Richardson on board. Of 41 applicants that applied from across the country, Richardson was the pick.

"The commissioners were real happy with the choice of Peggy Richardson because of the legal expertise that she would bring into a period of time where we have some decisions to make and things to consider, challenges we've had, and her expertise will probably lend well to the processes we put forward," Missouri Gaming Commission Chairman Mike Leara said earlier this month.

Leara said it's widely known the Gaming Commission has faced challenges during the past couple years; disputes over access to materials gathered for a report on gambling license decisions led to resignations and scrutiny from across the state, and the COVID-19 pandemic only added to the pile. Richardson's appointment represents a turning of the page and a fresh perspective, he said.

It will be a boon, Leara said, that the commission is able to bring in Richardson to grasp the bigger issues from a higher level without having any prior professional ties to the commission's current staff.

"She's coming into a time period where it's not on cruise control," Leara said. "She has her work cut out for her, and she understood that coming in. She knew there were some complex issues that were going to require a lot of work on her part. I know the sentiment of the commissioners at the time we made the decision to offer her the job, and when she accepted it we felt relieved. We felt just a sense of a new page being turned, and we were enthused about her coming on board and helping guide us through some of this in her day-to-day responsibilities of managing."

In her new role, Richardson said she is excited and grateful to be given the opportunity to continue with public service. To her, Richardson said the Gaming Commission holds true to an ideal she tried to embody while on the bench — the idea of fairness.

"Is the industry being fair with all the patrons, and are they following the rules? That's right down my alley," Richardson said. "That's what I've done my entire career, so it seemed to be a natural fit to me."

Richardson, too, acknowledged the negative coverage surrounding the commission more recently, but said she felt steps were being taken to rectify some of those issues before she came on board. Richardson said there are still some elements the commission is working on actively, but the group feels it's in a good place moving forward.

Her ties to Moniteau County strong, Richardson said living in a tighter-knit community means that her widely positive reputation is about more than her work; people get to know you for you, she said, rather than just one's professional capacity.

"I'm blessed, that's all there is to it. I'm blessed," Richardson said. "I've been able to have wonderful jobs. As far as being blessed, I have God and people that love me, I have good health and work that I enjoy, and I have the privilege of living in the greatest nation on the face of the earth."

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