The Missouri Legislature may decide the legality of electronic gaming machines this year. What will be done after that is still unclear.
A bill designed to outlaw the popular machines found in gas stations and bars all over the state has been filed by State Sen. Dave Schatz, R-Sullivan.
Less than a month into the 2020 legislative session, the bill has already cleared the Senate Government Reform Committee but now it may be used as leverage against the wider issue of gambling expansion in Missouri.
Many involved on both sides of the gaming argument call the machines a “gray area.”
Last week, The Missourian asked Gov. Mike Parson what his thoughts were on the gaming machine issue.
“We’ve got to find out what is legal and illegal,” Parson said. “We don’t know what is right and we need to clean up this gray issue.”
In July, Parson drew some fire when a political action committee (PAC) raising money for his campaign received $20,000 in contributions from Torch Electronics, which is managed by Steve Miltenberger of Wildwood.
The donations came in the form of two checks of $10,000 each.
Since donations were to a PAC and not directly to Parson, it is unknown if contributions will win the gaming machine company any direct favor from the governor if Schatz’ bill crosses his desk for signature.
On Monday, Schatz said the future of his gaming bill will be determined by the progress of gaming expansion bills currently in the Senate Appropriations Committee.
In addition to legalizing the gaming machines, the prospects of sport betting is also being considered.
“There will be no expansion of gambling until illegal gaming is gone,” Schatz said. “If the state can’t handle illegal gaming, there is no way it can handle more legal gambling. There is very little chance the bills would get moved out of the committee unless a deal is made on the gaming machines. There are a lot of forces working against it.”
Schatz added if the machines would be made legal, they would fall under the jurisdiction of the gaming commission, but that could create a monopoly.
“Those who are operating now illegally already have relationships built,” Schatz said. “We are not going to reward bad behavior.”
With his bill nearly ready to pass the Senate it will now be used as leverage against gaming expansion. He said there is support from the casino industry to see the gaming expansion squashed.
The Missouri Highway Patrol is currently investigating the operation of the gaming machines all over the state including some locations in Franklin County.
The highway patrol investigations are initiated only after a specific compliant is made to the Missouri Gaming Commission and the results are passed to local prosecuting attorneys to decide if they will prosecute the “gray area.”
As of now, there have been no court rulings on the machines and the only case being prosecuted is in Platte County.
The results of that case could end the discussion on the legality of the machines or could create a snowball effect and lead to more prosecution of the gaming machine operators statewide.
“I don’t know if the bill will ever get the green light,” Schatz said. “Right now, we have to wait on the results of the Platte County case.”