Casino Watch Focus has reported on the illegal gambling machines that have been popping up outside of casinos and all over Missouri. Slot machines are only allowed in licensed Missouri casinos, yet the manufacture of the machines claim they aren’t games of chance, so they aren’t slot machines. Many jurisdictions have dealt with pre reveal machines and they have all concluded they are slot machines. The Missouri Gaming Commission has defined them as illegal machines, but they can only enforce gambling regulations at the casinos. The Missouri Highway Patrol has been clear they view them as gambling and they have been working with local prosecutors to try to crack down on the machines. Most recently, authorized slot machine manufacturers have taken to the courts to sue those that manufacture the illegal machines. Various editorial boards are also standing up against this illegal expansion of gambling. The St Louis Post Dispatch had the following to say:
Reasons abound why the spread of unlicensed payout video-gaming machines in Missouri’s bars, restaurants and gas stations constitutes an intolerable situation. Legalized gambling was approved here as a tradeoff for state tax revenue, but the unlicensed machines don’t bring in any. The state regulates legal gambling operations to ensure they aren’t cheating their patrons, but there is no such protection for those who play these machines.
Another important reason regulation is necessary is that gambling is an addictive activity for some people, which is why the state requires that access to addiction services and a voluntary self-exclusion program be offered at regulated gambling sites. These unregulated sites have no such resources.
The editorial continues and its sentiment is joined by other editorial boards as well, so its odd that Missouri Gov. Mike Parsons isn’t convinced the machines are clearly illegal slot machines. US News and World Report explains:
Gov. Mike Parson says he’s not convinced that unregulated and untaxed video gambling terminals in the state are illegal, even as investigators in his administration work to halt their spread. The governor’s stance is in contrast to the Missouri State Highway Patrol, whose leaders have made a decision. A patrol lieutenant told a state House committee in October that the machines are illegal and that its investigations resulted in dozens of criminal referrals to prosecutors.
Besides the Platte County case, several others have been filed, including one in Parson’s home county. Polk County Prosecutor Ken Ashlock said there are no payout requirements for unregulated machines, meaning the operators can keep more money than they could in one of the state’s 13 regulated casinos. “People are just getting cheated on them and they don’t know it,” he said.
The Governor’s position doesn’t instill confidence and some have argued its a symptom of a larger problem and is the real reason the Missouri legislator must address the issue this legislative session. The Joplin Globe argues:
The biggest distributor of the machines, Torch Electronics, has aggressively marketed the games. It says the terminals are not gambling devices because a player has the option of checking the outcome of a wager by clicking an icon before continuing play, thereby removing the element of chance, though players are not required to click the icon before completing the play.
Torch employs politically connected lobbyists and high-powered consultants. The company has made campaign donations to key political players, including at least $20,000 to Gov. Mike Parson, according to a July report in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
The fact that criminal cases are going forward while the governor questions whether the devices are in fact illegal highlights the problem. Torch and similar companies distributing the devices are skirting the edges of the gambling laws in Missouri and appear to be trying to game the system through political influence.
The Missouri House held special hearings into the machines and unregulated gambling this past summer, and the Senate is looking at a plan to ban the terminals outright.
This is an issue of the letter of the law versus the intent of the law. The Missouri General Assembly must resolve the matter, to permit these games or to clearly ban them.
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