Missouri Senate pro tem Dave Schatz says the Missouri State Highway Patrol has investigated video gaming machines at a Sullivan business as part of a statewide sweep being promoted by the Missouri Gaming Commission.
Schatz told The Missourian the information he has received from the Missouri Department of Public Safety has been limited due to the ongoing investigation, but he did confirm Franklin County is on the radar.
“There are at least three machines at the location in Sullivan. I’ve been there and seen them myself,” Schatz said. “Overall, there are easily 50 to 100 machines in operation at multiple locations in Franklin County.”
He added there have been more than 80 complaints statewide filed with the gaming commission in the last couple months that have also spurred investigations.
After the investigation of machines in Franklin County is completed, the findings by the patrol will be passed on to Franklin County Prosecuting Attorney Matt Becker, who will decide whether or not to pursue the case and file criminal charges.
Becker confirmed at least one in business in Sullivan, and possibly others, are being investigated and he has seen some of the evidence being produced by the patrol. He has also met with Schatz regarding the issue.
“We will look at any case law enforcement brings to us,” Becker said. “They will be looked at on a case by case basis and any resulting charges would be misdemeanors only.”
Becker added it would depend on the evidence produced as to who — the machine or business owners — would be charged and to what severity they would be punished, but they would be more than just fines.
Schatz added the wheels of justice turn slowly and there is no time line on when investigations may be turned over or any charges brought.
“This is the frustrating thing for me,” Schatz said. “There is illegal activity going on and nothing is being done about it. If someone was being robbed, there would be immediate action. How many millions of dollars does the state have to lose?”
Schatz added he fears many of the companies that own the gaming machines are just holding a place until they are banned by legislation or gambling is expanded.
Schatz took on the gaming machines earlier this year, filing legislation stating the machines are subverting legal gaming in the state and undercutting legal Missouri Lottery products by an estimated $90,000 per illegal machine in the state.
He claims there are 665 retail locations in the state of Missouri operating illegal gaming machines, which have cost the Missouri Lottery Commission $3.2 million in sales in the past six months.
In February, Schatz, who has broad power over the Senate calender, filed Senate Bill 431, which failed to gain traction.
With early filing of 2020 legislation just two months away, Schatz said similar anti gaming bills will be forthcoming, but he also anticipates bills to expand gaming throughout the state.
“These are not games of chance, they are just like slot machines you’d find in a casino,” Schatz said. “They were not approved when voters allowed the expansion of gambling in the state to its current form.”
Schatz said he would like to see another vote of the people to voice their direct opinions as to whether they want to see the machines legalized in the state.
Recently, the owner of Torch Electronics, which manufactures many of the electronic gaming machines, donated money to the campaign of Missouri Gov. Mike Parson.
“There is a lot of money being spent to expand gaming in Missouri,” Schatz said. “My mind set is we have to get rid of the illegal gaming before we can expand any new gaming. It needs to be a vote of the people and I don’t think they will get duped again.”
If, in fact, the machines are made legal, state officials say 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.
Currently, the Missouri Gaming Commission (MGC) does not regulate the machines and any reports are referred to the Missouri Highway Patrol Division of Drug and Crime, which may conduct investigations and hand the findings on to local prosecuting attorneys.
In recent months, a link has been added to the gaming commission website to allow residents to report the gaming machines and file formal complaints to be investigated by the patrol.
The legislation previously sponsored by Schatz would allow the MGC to enter into agreements with federal, state, and local agencies for investigations relating to and the enforcement of criminal provisions relating to illegal gambling.
It also would modify the definition of “gambling device” for the purposes of provisions of law relating to the prosecution of illegal gambling by including any device, machine, paraphernalia, or equipment not approved by the Missouri Gaming Commission or State Lottery Commission.
“Most importantly, any establishment that is convicted of participating in illegal gambling will have its liquor license revoked, and it will lose its ability to sell Missouri Lottery products,” Schatz said. “This penalty will ensure that illegal gaming is taken seriously.”