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Illegal gambling complaints in Missouri surge

(Missourinet) The Missouri State Highway Patrol testified Thursday in Jefferson City that the number of complaints it’s received about illegal gambling has increased from 39 in 2018 to 145 so far this year.

Missouri House Special Interim Committee on Gaming Chairman Dan Shaul, R-Imperial, speaks during a hearing on August 22, 2019 (file photo courtesy of Tim Bommel at House Communications)

Most of those complaints are about alleged illegal slot machines. Highway Patrol Lieutenant Roger Phillips tells state lawmakers the Patrol’s Division of Drug and Crime Control (DDCC) only has two full-time investigators to handle these complaints.

“In recent months, we’ve had such a volume of complaints that we’ve had to pull investigators from other assigned duties to come and help investigate these complaints,” Phillips testifies.

The Patrol’s DDCC is the Patrol’s criminal investigation bureau’s investigative branch. Phillips testified Thursday before the House Special Interim Committee on Gaming.

Alleged illegal slots can be found in bars, restaurants, gas stations and convenience stores.

The Missouri Prosecutors Association also testified at Thursday’s hearing. Prosecutors Association legal counsel Steve Sokoloff says the first criminal case in the state involving alleged illegal slots will go to trial in December in western Missouri’s Platte County.

“I think everybody is waiting to see once there’s a definitive statement I think you’ll find that there will be a lot more willingness to prosecute those cases,” says Sokoloff.

House Special Interim Committee on Gaming Chairman Dan Shaul, R-Imperial, predicts the alleged illegal slot machine issue will end up at the Missouri Supreme Court. Representative Shaul tells Mr. Sokoloff that whichever side loses the Platte County case will appeal.

“It’s a good chance it’s going to end up over here (across the street at the Missouri Supreme Court in Jefferson City). There’s enough money on each side of this argument,” Shaul tells Sokoloff.

“They’re going to try anyway, let’s put it that way,” Sokoloff responds.

“Either side, win or lose, they’re both,” Shaul says. “Right,” Sokoloff responds.

Sokoloff tells lawmakers that all gambling is illegal in Missouri by the Constitution, unless specifically provided for.

State Rep. Jeff Shawan, R-Poplar Bluff, says prosecutors in his southeast Missouri district are dealing with more important violent crime issues than slot machines.

The Missouri Gaming Association describes the slot machines in gas stations and truck stops as illegal, adding that they bypass Missouri voters. The Gaming Association opposes legalizing the video lottery terminals, saying Missouri casinos generated $370 million in state tax revenue in 2018.

The Missouri Gaming Commission has testified that any illegal gaming machines used in Missouri negatively impact casinos and the state Lottery, reducing taxes and funding for education and veterans.

The House committee’s next hearing will be its fourth, and is scheduled for October 24 at the Statehouse. It will be on sports betting.

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