Missouri legislators asked to pass clearer definition of illegal slot machines, tougher penalties

The Missouri Gaming Association is calling for legislative action to stop the spread of illegal slot machines throughout the state.

The association estimates there are at least 14,000 illegal machines in use statewide, a number approaching the total of 16,500 legal ones in Missouri's 13 casinos.

Illegal slot machines aren't exactly hiding, either, Missouri Gaming Association Executive Director Mike Winter said. Often, he said, they're in plain sight.

"You don't have to travel very far in the state or on a highway and stop in someplace and see one, two or more of these machines," Winter said.

The machines are common in gas stations, truck stops and convenience stores, but Winter said those business aren't necessarily to blame and might not know the machines are illegal.

"I'm sure whoever the operator is or the company that's getting them to put the machine in is promoting it from the perspective that's like, 'These are legal machines; they can draw you a lot of revenue,'" he said. "But they're clearly illegally being placed in some of these places."

The machines operate similarly to casino slot machines: Players insert money, choose a game and wager, and are usually paid by a business' cashier if they win. However, the illegal machines aren't taxed like legal gambling is and don't always monitor players' ages or potential gambling problems.

"These illegal machines do none of those types of efforts," Winter said. "They're often unsupervised; they're unregulated."

Legislative efforts to further regulate illegal slot machines in Missouri have been unsuccessful. Senate President Pro Tempore Dave Schatz, R-Sullivan, brought Senate Bill 10 before a committee in January, but it did not advance past the Senate floor.

Schatz's legislation would have targeted the liquor licenses of businesses that keep illegal machines more than 10 days after one is found.

"I filed SB 10 because of the proliferation of illegal gambling machines throughout the state," Schatz said. "There is no gray area with this. The gaming laws are black and white, and this is impacting revenues that should be going to our schools."

Right now, it's up to the Missouri Highway Patrol to investigate illegal machines. The patrol has taken some action, including the June confiscation of 50 devices from two businesses in the Springfield area.

The association released a statement thanking the patrol for its efforts and faulting lawmakers: "The Missouri Gaming Association supports the Missouri State Highway Patrol's investigations and recent mass seizures of illegal slot machines at Missouri gas stations, truck stops and restaurants. Because last session's legislative efforts to address illegal slot machines in Missouri failed, the Missouri State Highway Patrol is now left to deal with the issue on their own."

Winter said he supports changes to statutes that might clear up the definition of illegal gaming but wants to see more than that from the next legislative session.

"If you're still going to have people who ignore the law, even if it is changed, then there needs to be some penalty," he said.