Missouri Squabbles Over Legality of Slot-Like Machines, Provider Charged

Posted on: January 31, 2020, 01:00h. 

Last updated on: January 30, 2020, 01:59h.

Missouri-based Torch Electronics — which provides controversial gaming machines that resemble slots — is now facing a gambling-related charge in Linn County.

Gregg Keller, a spokesman for Torch Electronics, defends the Missouri company providing machines that opponents argue are slots. (Image: Candidates.Vote)

Earlier this month, Linn County Prosecuting Attorney Shiante McMahon charged Torch with first-degree promoting gambling, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. The charge comes after Brookfield police officers last September seized three machines from a local convenience store. The devices allegedly belonged to Torch Electronics.

Company officials will appear in Linnues Circuit Court on Feb. 27. If found guilty, the company could be forced to pay a $10,000 fine. But company officials are “confident” they will be victorious in court.

Torch will be defending our operations in Linn County to the utmost,” company spokesman Gregg Keller told the Post-Dispatch. “We’re confident that, once local law enforcement and prosecutors there learn more about our entirely legal games, they will allow them to continue operating just as has happened all over the state.”

Prosecutors in Missouri appear to disagree among themselves if the machines are legal video games or if they are slot machines, which can only be played in licensed casinos, the newspaper reported.

Torch terminals closely resemble slot machines. A player puts in money, selects a game to play, and then selects a wager, the Post-Dispatch said. Winners get paid by a cashier at the store where terminals are located.

However, last year the Missouri Gaming Commission concluded the Torch machines are “gambling devices.” That makes them illegal unless they are in licensed casinos.

But Torch officials say their machines “fall outside the definition of a ‘gambling device’ under Missouri law and are entirely legal,” the Post-Dispatch said. In fact, they call them “no-chance game machines.”

The no-chance machines have led to complaints at the Missouri Gaming Commission. Prosecutors in several counties are challenging their legality.

TNT Amusement Suit Against Torch

Last December, TNT Amusements — also based in Missouri — filed a civil lawsuit against Torch Electronics, the Post-Dispatch reported. The suit also names Midwest Petroleum Company, which replaced TNT’s coin-operated machines with Torch machines at the Midwest Travel Plaza in Cuba, Missouri.

Torch has responded forcefully to the lawsuit. “Torch machines operate statewide to the benefit of dozens of family-owned small businesses and charitable organizations in the state,” Gregg Keller said in December, the Post-Dispatch reported.

Keller is a political consultant. He reportedly heads President Donald Trump’s reelection initiative in Missouri.

Torch has gotten attention for contributing over $20,000 to Republican Gov. Mike Parson’s re-election effort through Uniting Missouri, a political action committee, the Post-Dispatch said.

Torch is owned by Steve Miltenberger. He also has donated to political campaigns, including the Parson campaign.

Competing with Missouri Lottery

The Missouri Lottery is concerned the no-chance games are competing with lottery ticket sales. Torch gaming machines are not regulated and no revenue is taxed, in contrast to licensed slots.

Nor will any revenues go to public schools or universities. There are no payout regulations in effect.

State legislators may try to pass legislation to address the disparity between these machines and slot machines.

Last year, Stephen Sokoloff, general counsel for the Missouri Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, told St. Louis Public Radio, “In my opinion, there’s really not much of anything that you would be able to do to adjust machines so that they would be legal under current law.”

A related Platte County court case about machines, like Torch’s, may take two years to resolve. It involves Integrity Gaming, a Kansas-based supplier of video poker-like machines, the Post-Dispatch said. Its outcome could impact the legality of the no-chance gaming machines.