Missouri Wants Sports Betting to Battle Illegal Slots

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A person plays the slots. John Moore/Getty Images/AFP

Are they illegal, or aren’t they? It seems in most jurisdictions that deem unlicensed slot machines illegal, they are, therefore, illegal. That’s pretty much the long and short of it. If you are a private club that has a little secret room downstairs where the members go to play the unlicensed slots, it’s a pretty good bet that the room isn’t all that secret.

The word on the street always gets around, including where you can pull a slot and score some cash if you win. Local cops aren’t stupid, they frequent barrooms and hear what everyone hears. They also know busting neighborhood clubs and watering holes for illegal slots won’t exactly endear them to the locals but if it becomes truly open and notorious then it’s not a question of if they’ll get busted, it’s just a matter of when.

The consequences are generally not too severe, the machines get seized, the fines get meted out, and the club agrees never, ever to do it again. Until they do. But the unlicensed slot machines in question are generally tucked away and out of the public eye. It’s a members-only kind of thing in most areas where you have to know someone who knows someone to find out where to go.

But apparently, that’s hardly the case in Missouri. According to estimates, there is a bare minimum of 14,000 unlicensed slots in gas stations and convenience stores. The legislature hasn’t really stated one way or the other as to its legality but the Missouri Gaming Commission and the Missouri State Highway Patrol have made no bones about where they stand on unlicensed slots – they’re illegal.

And as the state’s lottery advertising budget was slashed from $1.5 million to $400,000 and no measures were taken to regulate or eliminate the slot machines, despite legislation proposed by Senate President Dave Schatz, the company providing the one-eyed bandits, Torch Electronics, insists its machines are not gambling devices. Huh?

In February the company filed a lawsuit claiming harassment from the Missouri State Highway Patrol. “The Highway Patrol has engaged in a long-running campaign of harassment of stores, like Warrenton Oil’s stores, that house Torch amusement devices,” the lawsuit states.

But sports betting has come into the mix and it is now front and center since Missouri’s professional sports teams are enthusiastically backing it. Just recently, the St. Louis Cardinals, St. Louis Blues, Kansas City Royals, and the St. Louis City soccer club came together in a united front to push the legalization of sports betting in the state.

State Senate President Schatz will attempt to use one bill to pass sports betting and regulate video gaming in the state. “The initiative petition may take that item out of the mix,” Schatz said. “It might unwind that a little bit.”

Schatz also stated he would refile legislation to ban the slot games across the state that are unregulated and produce no tax revenue for the state. The sports betting referendum still requires vetted signatures from eight percent of the voters in six of the eight congressional districts before appearing on the ballot.