Officials in Missouri’s 13 cities that have casinos called Wednesday for a stronger crackdown on illegal gambling machines that have flooded the state in recent years.
Members of the Missouri Home Dock City Association said Attorney General Eric Schmitt, county prosecutors and law enforcement agencies should move aggressively to enforce laws prohibiting unregulated and untaxed slot machines in convenience stores, bars and truck stops.
“Only Missouri’s voters can decide where gambling can take place legally in our state, and currently that is limited to our 13 state-licensed riverboat casinos,” said Maryland Heights Mayor Mike Moeller, who is president of the coalition.
The state Constitution prevents gambling outside of regulations set by the state’s gaming commission.
But companies such as Wildwood-based Torch Electronics have placed as many as 14,000 machines in gas stations and other establishments.
The Missouri Highway Patrol has said that the slot machines are illegal, but prosecution has been spotty. And the Legislature has not moved on the issue amid intense lobbying from politically connected consultants who are on Torch’s payroll.
“For more than a decade, a handful of companies have ignored this voter-approved structure by placing thousands of illegal gaming machines in gas stations, truck stops and other venues of convenience. These illegal gambling machines have evaded state regulatory and transparency rules and fail to deliver on the job creation and economic development required by the Missouri Constitution and state law,” Moeller said.
The resolution approved by the group follows a similar announcement by the Missouri Municipal League in November.
In the Capitol, lawmakers have compared Torch with an illegal drug dealer, calling the argument its video gaming devices aren’t games of chance “loose and fictitious.”
The Senate is considering Senate Bill 632, which would state clearly that an illegal gambling device is one not regulated by state gambling authorities that involves cash payouts. It bans individuals and companies convicted of illegal gambling from participating in any future expansion of legal video gambling in the state.
It requires the Missouri Gaming Commission to refer tips to the Missouri Highway Patrol, which would be required to investigate.
The legislation also threatens the liquor licenses of establishments that gaming authorities or law enforcement report as in possession of an illegal gambling device.
The Home Dock Cities Association said more needs to be done by police and prosecutors.
“It’s high time our state’s law enforcement community remove these machines from our local communities and hold the manufacturers accountable instead of allowing them to put millions of dollars into key legislators’ pockets to change the laws without a vote of the people,” Mayor Moeller said. “To date, Missouri state legislators have rejected all such demands.”