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Missouri slot machine company sues prosecutor to head off law enforcement scrutiny

Missouri slot machine company sues prosecutor to head off law enforcement scrutiny

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JEFFERSON CITY — A Wildwood-based slot machine company sued a southwest Missouri county

prosecutor this month in an attempt to stop an investigative subpoena into its operations.

The politically connected Torch Electronics sued Greene County Prosecuting Attorney Dan Patterson on July 15, asking the Greene County Circuit Court to quash an investigative subpoena directed at the company.

“The matter you inquired about is related to an ongoing criminal investigation,” Patterson said in a statement. “Under the Missouri Supreme Court Rules of Professional Conduct it is not something that I can talk about other than to say we are aware of the filing and will be responding to it and litigating the matter.”

Torch did not respond to a request for comment regarding its lawsuit.

This is the second attempt by Torch to head off law enforcement scrutiny by suing. Torch in February sued the Missouri State Highway Patrol in Cole County Circuit Court, asking the court to stop state troopers from seizing its machines as part of a statewide gaming crackdown. Warrenton Oil, which offers Torch games at its gas stations, also joined the lawsuit.

Torch argues its machines aren’t illegal gambling devices. Even so, the company faces felony illegal gambling charges in northern Missouri’s Linn County, and the Highway Patrol has deemed illegal machines such as Torch’s that are being placed in gas stations, restaurants and truck stops.

Torch’s lawsuit attempts to quash an investigative subpoena issued June 14 that seeks to “compel the production of a wide range of documents ... including third-party contracts/agreements, financial records and technical information,” the lawsuit said.

The lawsuit also said the subpoena “lacks appropriate limitation” and would force the company to turn over “privileged information.”

The company argues its machines are legal “amusement devices.”

“Compliance with the subpoena would be unreasonable and oppressive, as Torch is legally entitled to own, operate, and license its amusement devices under Missouri law,” the company’s lawsuit said.

But because players insert money with the hope of winning more, opponents say the machines are, in effect, gambling devices.

Even though the Highway Patrol has deemed such devices illegal, not all county prosecutors have pursued charges against video slot machine companies.

Legislators have attempted to remove any ambiguity from state law by clearly outlawing games that aren’t regulated by the state. But Torch, with a network of Capitol lobbyists, has worked against those attempts.

Torch and Warrenton Oil also continue to pump money into Missouri politics.

The two companies last month contributed more than $275,000 to political action committees associated with one of the company’s lobbyists, former House Speaker Steve Tilley, according to Missouri Ethics Commission records.

The Missouri Gaming Association, which represents the state’s regulated casinos, said in a statement that it supported heightened efforts by the Highway Patrol to police the games.

Unlike casino games, unregulated gaming machines do not provide any money to public education and do not have to abide by rules to protect consumers from low payouts.

“The Missouri Gaming Association supports the Missouri State Highway Patrol’s investigations and recent mass seizures of illegal slot machines at Missouri gas stations, truck stops and restaurants,” the organization said. “Because last session’s legislative efforts to address illegal slot machines in Missouri failed, the Missouri State Highway Patrol is now left to deal with the issue on their own.”

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