JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — The Missouri Gaming Commission has received 84 complaints this year that identified at least 200 possibly illegal slot machines and other gaming devices across the state, as lottery officials, casino operators and some business operators complain that the spread of phony machines is hurting their profits.
The complaints come as the spread of unregulated video gaming machines will be the subject of an Oct. 10 public hearing at the Missouri Capitol. A special state House committee on gambling was initially formed to study whether to allow sports betting and video gambling, but the presence of an estimated 14,000 unregulated gaming terminals has become the focus of the hearings, The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.
Lottery officials said earlier this month that the unregulated video gaming machines could be diverting up to $50 million from the lottery.
Among those filing a complaint with the commission was Claycomo Village Clerk Jamie Wright, who reported in May that a Phillips 66 gas station in her community had four slot machines. The village asked the station to remove the machines, but nothing has been done, she said Thursday.
Some of the complaints target machines owned by Torch Electronics, a politically connected company that argues its terminals in gas stations are legal.
One of those who complained, Jim Turntine, said the unregulated machines hurt his business, which provides pool tables, juke boxes, dart boards and other coin-operated games to bars and restaurants.
“I am beyond fed up,” said Turntine, of West Sullivan. “I am, quite frankly, infuriated by the massive spread of these machines by companies like Torch.”
Most of the gaming terminals are similar to slot machines. Players who win money can cash out and get paid by the store cashier.
In July, the lead attorney for the Missouri Gaming Commission ruled that the terminals are “gambling devices,” which are prohibited outside of licensed casinos.
The gaming commission forwards the complaints to the Missouri Highway Patrol, which has said it cannot act on the complaints after a legal case from 2000 found that the patrol has no authority to confiscate the machines.
Few county attorneys have moved to prosecute the suppliers or businesses hosting the machines. Platte County Prosecutor Eric Zahnd in June sued Kansas-based Integrity Gaming, accusing the company of placing illegal machines in two Parkville convenience stores. The outcome of the case could determine whether the rest of the state can stop the spread of the machines.
Lottery officials said legalizing the machines and putting them under the control of the lottery could bring in an additional $170 million that would go toward education once the program is fully running after four years.