Missouri Gray Market Gaming Devices Need More Regulation, Law Professors Say

Posted on: October 25, 2021, 01:00h. 

Last updated on: October 25, 2021, 12:24h.

Five video gaming machines were demolished by a backhoe earlier this month in Platte City, Mo. after they were ruled illegal by a local court. It marked the state’s first successful prosecution of a gaming vendor in such a case. But there remains a dispute about the devices.

Missouri backhoe destruction
A backhoe destroys gaming devices in Missouri earlier this month after a few of them were ruled illegal. Many of these types of gaming machines remain in use in the state. (Image: Missouri Independent)

Similar machines are still in use in Missouri. An estimated 14,000 “gray market” slot-machine-like games have popped up in bars, gas stations, restaurants, and truck stops throughout Missouri, says Robert Jarvis, a professor at Nova Southeastern University’s Shepard Broad College of Law.

There could be as many as 20,000 of these unlicensed, disputed gaming devices statewide. Supporters of these devices say they are legal and are “no-chance,” because players can see if they will win or lose if they play the next bet.

Others say they are illegal. Many of these opponents want the state to enact new legislation. Among the opponents are operators of legal riverboat casinos.

“If the state does not take action, enforcement of these gray market devices is left to individual local prosecutors,” Anthony Cabot, Distinguished Fellow of Gaming Law at UNLV’s Boyd School of Law, told Casino.org.

Patchwork of Enforcement

“This leads to a patchwork of enforcement that depends on the discretion of local officials,” Cabot added.

Last year, the state’s legislature attempted to ban slot-like devices. The legislative effort failed.

This past session, state Sen. Denny Hoskins (R-Warrensburg) introduced legislation that would have classified no-chance devices as illegal gambling. But the bill again failed to gain sufficient support.

Jarvis said the Missouri legislature now is being pushed by Senate President Pro Tem Dave Schatz, R-Sullivan, to give the Missouri Gaming Commission (MGC) the power to go after these machines. That would be done principally by going after the liquor licenses of the establishments that have these gray market machines, Jarvis said.

Missouri either needs to crack down on these machines … or has to bring these machines out of the shadows by giving their owners/operators a way to get them licensed,” Jarvis added.

Legalization under his approach is a much better approach than prohibition, Jarvis added.

Missouri’s statute gives the state attorney general “concurrent jurisdiction” to go after gray market machines, so the attorney general is supposed to act whenever a local prosecutor fails to act.

“To date, however, the attorney general has not seen fit to use his/her jurisdiction,” Jarvis said.

Local Prosecutors Have Different Priorities

“All laws need to be applied equally and evenly throughout a state. But different local prosecutors have different priorities based on the needs of their communities and their constituents’ wishes,” Jarvis said.

It’s just a matter of political will on the part of prosecutors to enforce the law, or on legislators to change the law,” he added.

In addition, it is common for a prosecutor who is looking to make a name for himself/herself, or who is under pressure from a group of local citizens, to go after gray market slot machines, according to Jarvis.

“It makes for great headlines and great visuals on the evening news,” Jarvis said. He notes that earlier this month, a backhoe was used to destroy the machines. That visual was included in news reports.