JEFFERSON CITY — The chairman of a committee debating the future of gambling in Missouri says he would welcome testimony from companies responsible for the spread of potentially illegal video gaming machines across the state.
Rep. Dan Shaul, R-Imperial, told the Post-Dispatch that companies like Torch Electronics, operated by Steven Miltenberger, could offer an explanation of why they think their machines are OK to continue operating at a time when Missouri gambling regulators suggest they are not.
“If people want to talk, certainly they will be heard,” Shaul said. “Let them share their experience.”
Miltenberger, who has hired well-connected lobbyists and has seeded campaign accounts of Missouri politicians with tens of thousands of dollars, says he’s game.
“If Jefferson City bureaucrats whose departments are enjoying record revenues want to increase government bureaucracy and regulation while instituting new costs on Missourians we’d look forward to the opportunity to make the free market case to the Legislature,” Torch spokesman Gregg Keller said.
Miltenberger previously worked for video gambling companies in Illinois, where the machines have been taxed and regulated since 2012. He has placed video terminals in businesses across Missouri over the past year.
The terminals are similar to slot machines. A player inserts money, selects a game and decides how much to wager. Players who win money can cash out and get paid by the store cashier.
The Missouri Gaming Commission has deemed similar machines as “gambling devices,” which are prohibited outside of licensed casinos.
But Miltenberger says his terminals are “entirely legal.”
“We’re confident that as we continue to discuss our no-chance game machines with policy makers they’ll come to agree with scores of local prosecutors and law enforcement officials that our No-Chance Game Machines do not violate Missouri law,” Keller earlier told the Post-Dispatch.
At the same time, however, the Missouri Lottery and the state’s 13 casinos say the new, unregulated machines are cutting into their sales, sparking concern that gambling revenue that is designated for schools could be reduced.
What is happening in Missouri has played out in other states with similar results. In Georgia, the state decided to regulate the machines and is now receiving tax dollars from their operation.
In addition to Torch, other companies that have a presence in Missouri include Pace-O-Matic, which has put its slot-style games in other states. The Georgia-based company has hired two Missouri-based lobbyists to represent its interests in Jefferson City.
Pace-O-Matic did not respond to a request for comment.
Shaul said the purpose of the committee is to lay the groundwork for a possible expansion of gambling in Missouri that could include sports wagering and the legalization of slot machines in convenience stores and taverns.
But, he said any potential changes must find a way to balance any shift in gambling spending by the public.