JEFFERSON CITY — Missouri citizens have identified at least 200 potentially illegal slot machines and other gaming devices in stores and fraternal organizations across the state this year.
According to data compiled by the Missouri Gaming Commission, 84 complaints have been made by citizens about the ongoing spread of the machines, which officials say has diverted an estimated $50 million from the state Lottery and may be cutting into the profits of casinos.
“This location is loaded with illegal gambling machines,” says one complaint about a truck stop on Interstate 44 in Cuba.
“There are 2 poker machines in this gas station,” says another about a gas station in St. Peters.
Among those filing complaints was Claycomo Village Clerk Jamie Wright. In May she reported that a Phillips 66 gas station in her community had four slot machines. She said the village asked the station to remove the machines because "they are breaking the law."
But, she told the Post-Dispatch Thursday, “Nothing has been done."
Similar complaints have come in about establishments in O'Fallon, Foristell, Sullivan and Arnold.
In some cases, the complaints target machines owned by Torch Electronics, a politically connected company that claims the terminals it has placed in gas stations are not illegal. The company has hired the lobbying services of former Missouri House Speaker Steve Tilley and Republican Party consultant Gregg Keller and has contributed tens of thousands of dollars to a political action committee formed to support Gov. Mike Parson’s 2020 election effort.
The company also has retained Scott Dieckhaus as a lobbyist. He served in the Missouri House from 2009 to 2013 representing a Washington-area district and works for some GOP candidates.
Jim Turntine, who was among those filing complaints, said the machines owned by Torch are hurting his amusement business, which provides pool tables, juke boxes, dart boards and other coin-operated games to bars and restaurants.
“It sucks. I am beyond fed up,” said Turntine, of West Sullivan. “I am, quite frankly, infuriated by the massive spread of these machines by companies like Torch.”
The list of complaints obtained by the Post-Dispatch comes as the flood of the unregulated video gaming machines will be the subject of an Oct. 10 public hearing at the Capitol.
A special House committee on gambling was initially formed to investigate whether to allow sports betting and video gambling, but the presence of an estimated 14,000 unregulated gaming terminals has become the focal point of the hearings.
The terminals are similar to slot machines. A player inserts money, selects a game and decides how much to wager. Players who win money can cash out and get paid by the store cashier.
In July, the lead attorney for the Missouri Gaming Commission ruled that the terminals contain functions that make them “gambling devices,” which are prohibited outside of licensed casinos.
The complaints are forwarded by the gaming commission to the Missouri Highway Patrol. The patrol, however, says it cannot act on the complaints because of a legal case from 2000 that found the agency has no authority to confiscate the machines.
So far, most county prosecutors have not taken steps to prosecute the companies or the businesses hosting the machines.
In Platte County, however, Prosecutor Eric Zahnd has taken a supplier to court in a case that could determine whether the rest of the state can stop the spread of the machines.
A resolution to that case could take two years, leaving state officials to watch as more machines flow into the state.
Lottery officials said legalizing the machines and putting them under the control of the lottery could result in $170 million more for education once the program is fully running after four years.