According to State Sen. Dave Schatz, R-Sullivan, 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.
A recent investigation by The Missourian found the gaming machines in place in the ZX gas stations in Washington and Union.
Schatz took on the gaming machines in his weekly legislative column where he says 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.
The new machines are called Video Lottery Terminals, often referred to as VLTs.
“Recently, these machines were legalized in Illinois, and now they are spreading to our state despite the fact that Missouri law has not been changed to allow VLTs,” Schatz said. “These are games of chance with cash payouts that clearly seem illegal to me, but the companies pushing VLTs call them ‘gray machines’ instead of what they really are and that is ‘black market.’ ”
Schatz added he does not agree with the term “gray machines.”
“These are illegal machines and should be treated that way,” he said. “Not only are these machines illegal, but they weaken the Missouri Lottery, which helps fund public education in our state. I think it is time our state takes action and enforces the law.”
Missouri has an established system of regulating games of chance in licensed casinos and through products from the Missouri Lottery, like scratcher tickets and other lottery products.
To combat the machines and lost state revenue, Schatz, who has broad power over the Senate calender, filed Senate Bill 431 on Feb. 25.
“This is one of only a handful of bills that I’ve sponsored as president pro tem of the Missouri Senate,” he said. “I’ve done this because we can’t allow those who operate illegal gambling machines to benefit if the Legislature decides to legalize VLTs in truck stops and other locations.”
On Friday, Schatz told The Missourian the fact that he will be handling the bill personally shows it is a major priority for him.
“This is something I am very passionate about and I’m going to fast track this bill,” Schatz said. “It will be heard in committee next week and should be voted out and put on the Senate calendar quickly. Somebody has to take ownership and we have to get ahead of these things. They are going outside of the law.”
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 Patrol, which may or may not conduct investigations and hand the findings on to local prosecuting attorneys.
The new legislation 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 their liquor license revoked, and they will lose their ability to sell Missouri Lottery products,” Schatz said. “This penalty will ensure that illegal gaming is taken seriously.”