“Brazen” is the word outgoing director of the Missouri Lottery, May Scheve-Reardon, once used to describe the illegal gaming industry’s attempts to go around the law.
And now, perhaps in the most brazen — or at least clumsy — attempt so far, comes news of six slot machines seized at a Missouri gas station. And no, that’s not a lyric you’ll find in “The 12 Days of Christmas.”
As reported by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in June, Sgt. Jason Trammell of the Missouri State Highway Patrol discovered seven illegal casino-style slot machines at the Main Stop Convenience Store in Neosho.
Missouri has several riverboat casinos but no online gambling and no casinos on the mainland yet. Well, unless you can consider these shops as operating illegal casinos.
Missouri illegal gambling is a means to an end
After at least three visits to the store, Trammell turned over evidence to the Newton County Prosecuting Attorney. Authorities seized six of the machines with a search warrant.
An investigation identified Jasminder Singh of Arkansas-based PB08 Electronic Gaming Ventures LLC as the owner of the confiscated casino-style slot machines.
Singh said he’s not aware of any pending charges against him, telling the Post-Dispatch, “I’m not sure what happened to that. They’re still figuring it out, I guess.” He also said he installed the machines to help with falling revenue during the Covid-19 pandemic.
He hoped people would spend their winnings in the store, calling that “the whole idea.”
Slot machines seized are not pre-reveals
The seven machines discovered were not the usual controversial pre-reveal machines, sometimes called “gray” machines, often found at gas stations, bars, liquor stores, and more.
Singh told Trammell that’s what the machines should have been.
In his Highway Patrol report obtained by the Post-Dispatch, Trammel wrote referring to the pre-reveal function:
“I informed him [Singh] the machines I took did not have the function activated. Therefore, when cash was paid out on these machines, it made them straight slot machines.”
Trammell informed Singh that part of the problem was that winnings were paid out in cash. That means the store was functioning as a casino.
Instead, the store should issue winners a coupon which they could use to shop in the store.
Revealing “pre-reveals”… are games of chance
Controversy exists over whether pre-reveal games themselves qualify as slots. The Missouri Legislature has presented bills that would ban them.
According to St. Louis Post-Dispatch, up to this point state legislators have “continued to fumble in their efforts to approve legislation that would address video gambling.”
In a pre-reveal game, the outcome of the first spin is just that — pre-revealed. So a player can choose to deposit money, or not, or withdraw money already deposited, and so on with subsequent plays.
Purveyors of the machines count on players wanting to “play through.” As one producer of gray machines, Great Lakes Amusement, puts it on their website, players are looking for the “big win” and “will continue to play to try and find it.”
Lobbyists for the machines contend that the option to play through, quit, or get a refund is why their games don’t qualify as gambling devices or games of chance.
On the other hand, in 2018, a Florida appeals court ruled that because the machines use random number generators to determine outcomes, they do, indeed, qualify as games of chance and not of skill.
“The user cannot predict that outcome until it is randomly generated and then displayed by the machine. Nor can the user predict the outcome of Game 2 while playing Game 1.”
And, the Florida court said, if customers can play them outside of casinos, the machines are illegal. The Florida court also held that “there is nothing a player can do to change the outcome that is randomly generated by the machine from among millions of potential outcomes.”
The opportunity to change the outcome would render it a game of skill.
In Kentucky, pre-reveals operate under a “legal loophole,” according to WHAS11.
Missouri illegal gambling controversy
In Missouri, the slot-vs.-not controversy flared up again when authorities seized a total of 50 “arcade-style illegal gambling devices” a year ago.
At the time, Sgt. Mike McClure of the Missouri State Highway Patrol told KY3 that they wanted the machine seizures “to educate people on the illegality of these machines.”
According to the Missouri Independent, many prosecutors don’t consider the machines illegal and won’t prosecute. Theresa Kinney, Jasper County prosecutor, laid out the three elements courts look for in these cases to determine if gambling is involved:
- “You have to pay to play”
- “There has to be an element of chance”
- “There has to be something of value to be obtained”
As of last October, the state has seen only one completed prosecution of such cases. That resulted in the public smashing of five illegal gambling machines in Platte City, as directed under state law.
According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, so far in 2022, charges related to such machines have been filed in the following counties across Missouri:
Shades of gray machines
Gray machines are unregulated and that lack of oversight has numerous consequences.
- No consumer protections against low payouts
- Money does not go to public education
- No problem gambling resources
- The state’s legal gaming industry is losing money
- No tests for integrity and fairness
- No compliance with cybersecurity or anti-money laundering standards
- Underage players may access them
In December 2021, Ed Grewach, general counsel of the Missouri Gaming Commission, reported that the agency had received 280 reports about gray machines.
“A lot of them are from citizens concerned about illegal gaming,” he told lottery officials.
“Back to the future?”
Maybe Missouri’s first gray machine stood in George Deskin’s lunchroom. Around 1911, Deskin’s lunchroom in Moberly offered patrons a gum machine.
A customer could put in a nickel to buy gum and maybe win 10 cents to $1 in tokens. The machine would alert the customer as to whether that would happen with the next nickel, as explained by the Missouri Independent.
When Johnson appealed his subsequent $25 fine for offering an illegal gambling device, presiding Judge James Johnson upheld the conviction, writing that the enticement of a possible future payout led people to keep gambling.
The judge dispensed these words:
“In no field of reprehensible endeavor has the ingenuity of man been more exerted than in the invention of devices to comply with the letter, but to do violence to the spirit and thwart the beneficent objects and purposes, of the laws designed to suppress the vice of gambling.”