A Missouri-based company accused of operating illegal gaming machines filed a lawsuit alleging that state law enforcement actions against fraudulent gaming machines were a “harassment and intimidation” campaign.
Torch Electronics, LLC, filed a lawsuit against the Missouri Department of Public Safety, Missouri State Highway Patrol, and Missouri Division of Alcohol and Tobacco Control in Cole County on Friday.
The company claims the state exceeded its authority by removing burner machines from Warrenton Oil’s convenience stores as well as other locations. Warrenton Oil joined Torch in the lawsuit.
“These government officials continue to threaten to remove flare devices based solely on their own misinterpretations of Missouri gambling laws,” said Jefferson City attorney Charles Hatfield’s lawsuit.
“As such,” the lawsuit continues, “legal action is required to prevent the division and Highway Patrol from violating their authority by continuing to remove torch amusement devices from convenience stores.”
On Monday, the Senate briefly debated a bill sponsored by Senate President Pro Tem Dave Schatz, R-Sullivan, that would give the Missouri Gaming Commission the authority to track these machines.
It also allows for the revocation of a license for spirits from companies that have been found to be able to operate the machines on their premises.
“I just want you to stop breaking the law,” Schatz said of the illegal machines.
Torch Electronics rejects the bill, arguing that it would put the company out of business.
The machines in question work similarly to those in a casino. A player wagers money, chooses a game and decides how much he wants to wager. The winners will be paid by the cashier.
Missouri estimates that there are 14,000 of these machines across the state.
The Missouri Gaming Commission has classified them as gaming devices banned outside of licensed casinos and the State Highway Patrol considers them illegal.
Torch disagrees, saying that his machines reveal the outcome of the bet before the player moves forward. The company therefore argues that they are not gambling and therefore not illegal.
Senator Dan Hegeman, R-Cosby, chairman of the Senate Funds Committee, doesn’t buy Torch’s argument that his machines are not illegal gambling.
Since these machines operate outside of the law, Hegeman says there is no consumer protection and they are not subject to the same restrictions as other slot machines – including the fact that a portion of the proceeds are used to fund public education.
“I am excited about following these illegal machines that are stealing money from our children for their own benefit,” he said. “It drives me crazy. It makes me angry. They have to be taken out. They have to be destroyed. You have to leave the state of Missouri.”
Last year, Hegeman gave Missouri’s attorney general Eric Schmitt a budget of $ 150,000 to crack down on illegal slot machines across the state.
Schmitt initially refused to spend the money until a case involving illegal slot machines in Platte County was resolved. That case ended last month when Kansas-based Integrity Vending paid a fine after being found guilty of promoting first grade gambling.
Integrity Vending has decided not to appeal the ruling.
The attorney general then said the case proves that these cases are local affairs that should be handled by local prosecutors.
Hegeman said if the attorney general doesn’t spend the money, “We’ll likely adjust that. If we give them the resources to do it and they don’t, we will find something else to do with it. “
The attorney general declined to comment.
“I’ve heard for two years that we have to wait for the Platte County case. As soon as this is decided, we will take action, “said Schatz on Monday. “Well, that case is resolved.”
In addition to filing a lawsuit, Torch Electronics donated $ 10,000 earlier this month to a political action committee affiliated with its lobbyist Steve Tilley.
Last summer, the company gave $ 90,000 to another Tilley-affiliated PAC, and that money was distributed to various lawmakers in the run-up to the November election.
Tilley is also a longtime friend and advisor to Governor Mike Parson and one of his best fundraisers. Torch donated $ 20,000 to a PAC that supported Parson’s offer for the governor.
In his lawsuit, Torch is asking a Cole County judge to state that its machines are not gaming machines and that the state exceeded its authority in removing machines from stores.
The company also wants the judge to prevent the state from removing or participating in flare machines from convenience stores in the future.