Seven Missouri residents have brought forth a class-action lawsuit. In it, they cite illegal gambling and a potential corruption and racketeering scheme involving multiple parties.
The suit, filed by attorney Joe Jacobson on March 3, claims Torch Electronics, along with several gas and convenience store owners, are promoting illegal gambling in Missouri through video lottery terminals, or VLTs.
Outcome of lawsuit could decide if VLTs are illegal gambling machines
Efforts to legalize Missouri sports betting at the Capitol in Jefferson City were derailed last year by one senator’s insistence that legalizing VLTs be part of the legislation. Sen. Denny Hoskins is once again threatening to filibuster any sports betting measure that doesn’t include the legalization of VLTs.
The latest lawsuit against Torch also targets others. The defendants include:
- Torch Electronics, the vendor of several VLTs placed in gas stations and convenience stores
- Two convenience store companies: Mally Inc. and Warrenton Oil Company
- Steven Miltenberger, owner of Torch Electronics
- Brothers Mohammed and Rami Almuttan, owners of Mally Inc. and Torch’s first customers
Torch Electronics has been placing VLTs throughout Missouri since 2018 in hundreds of locations. These machines are also referred to as “gray machines” because they are unregulated. The outcome of this lawsuit could play a hand in changing that.
A jury would need to decide that VLTs violate state law.
Lawsuit claims defendants are ‘engaging in illegal gambling’
In the lawsuit, plaintiffs claim the defendants are “promoting and engaging in illegal gambling.” They contend that Miltenberger is collaborating with the “owners of the convenience stores, gas stations, bars, restaurants, and other places of public accommodation where Torch’s slot machines are installed and operated in the State of Missouri.”
Corruption is a large focus of the lawsuit, as it accuses the companies and individuals in question of federal racketeering violations and skirting state consumer protection laws. Interestingly, Mohammed Almuttan, who is named in the suit, was an informant in a high-profile corruption case leading to bribery charges against former St. Louis Board of Aldermen President Lewis Reed and others.
The plaintiffs also mention possible political power plays from the companies involved. Between Torch and Warrenton Oil, they have made just shy of $1 million in political donations. Most of these donations have gone to PACs under the thumb of Steve Tilley, a Torch lobbyist and former House speaker.
According to the lawsuit:
“Many of Gambling Enterprise’s participants, including Torch and Warrenton Oil, made significant political contributions to elected officials in Missouri, both to disincentivize them from enforcing against members of the Gambling Enterprise laws prohibiting this illegal gambling and to encourage the enactment of new laws legalizing Torch’s slot machines.”
Suit addresses problem gambling, especially with children
Another part of the lawsuit focuses on problem gambling. The plaintiffs claim they all lost money on the machines. The suit is meant to help themselves and others by getting the government to crack down on gambling devices, Jacobson said.
“The plaintiffs are generally people who have issues with gambling. They do it regularly and would like to not do it regularly.”
Three of the defendants also claim to have seen children playing Torch’s VLTs at certain locations. One of them was just 10 years of age, the suit says.