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Schatz presents ‘illegal’ gambling machine bill in committee

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — Senate President Pro Tem Dave Schatz presented a bill meant to discourage what he called “illegal gambling machines” in Missouri before a committee this week. 

“I filed SB 10 because of the proliferation of illegal gambling machines throughout the state,” Schatz said before the Government Accountability & Fiscal Oversight Committee Thursday morning. “There are dozens — if not hundreds — of establishments across the state of Missouri that house these unauthorized gaming machines. There is no grey area with this; the gaming laws are black and white, and this is impacting revenues that should be going to our schools. There’s no need for us to not move this legislation forward.”

Under Missouri law, gambling machines are only allowed in casinos. Schatz’s bill would allow the Gaming Commission to partner with the Missouri State Highway Patrol and the Supervisor of Liquor Control to investigate so-called gray gambling machines in rest stops, fraternal organizations, and other locations across the state. The bill would also add permanent revocation of a lottery gaming license to the list of sanctions for offenses and assert that devices using random number generators and awarding monetary prizes fall under the definition of illegal machines.

The issue of gray gambling machines has been brought up for multiple sessions now. 

Lobbyist Tom Robbins testified against the bill on behalf of St. Louis County-based Torch Electronics, saying the legislation would criminalize operations that were currently lawful in Missouri.

“We oppose SB 10 because it’s designed to put us out of business and would force numerous veterans organizations and fraternal organizations to lay off employees or close,” Robbins said, arguing that the devices made by the company did not qualify as games of chance and noting that Torch had recently won two cases over its games in court. “Make no mistake, the bill changes the law to make our legal games illegal.”

Other witnesses, including representatives from the Missouri Gaming Commission and the Associated Industries of Missouri, testified in favor of the bill.

Minority Floor Leader Sen. John Rizzo, who sits on the committee, discussed the bill in a press conference following adjournment Thursday. Rizzo said taking care of the gaming issue was the first step toward discussing legalization in Missouri.

“If they could ever come up with a way to stamp out illegal ones, we could have a conversation about the proper way to do it,” he said. “If we can get past that first step, it will open up a lot of conversations. … It’s a pretty safe bet that things will slow down if we don’t deal with that first.”

A plethora of gambling-related bills is on deck in the upper chamber this session, including another attempt to legalize and regulate video lottery terminals (VLTs) in Missouri and legislation on sports betting. 

The committee also heard a bill from Sen. Jeanie Riddle that would give someone injured by a product 15 years from the purchase date to sue for damages. The committee did not vote on either bill.