JEFFERSON CITY — Courtroom headaches, including felony charges of illegal gambling, haven’t stopped a Wildwood-based slot machine company from spending its money to influence Missouri politics.
State ethics commission records show Torch Electronics on Sunday sent $90,000 to the Missouri Growth PAC, a political action committee connected to Torch lobbyist Steve Tilley, a former Missouri House speaker and ally of Gov. Mike Parson.
Tilley’s father, Everett Tilley, is treasurer of the Perryville-based PAC, in existence since 2013.
It was unclear Monday where the Growth PAC would send the money. Gregg Keller, a spokesman for Torch and a GOP political consultant, did not respond to a request for comment. Asked about the Torch donation, Everett Tilley hung up on a reporter.
Parson’s political action committee, Uniting Missouri, has received $20,000 from Torch since July 2018, state ethics commission records show.
Meanwhile, Torch, whose machines are placed in gas stations and bars around the state, faces a number of legal headaches, including illegal gambling charges in Linn County.
The charge of promoting gambling in the first degree is a class E felony and carries a $10,000 fine if the company is found guilty. A hearing in that case is scheduled for July 15.
In Crawford County, an unhappy gambler is suing the company, seeking his money back. Paul Blankenship, of Crawford County, is pursuing class-action status so others can join the lawsuit.
He accuses the company of breaking state gambling laws, and the state constitution, which limits slot machines to “excursion gambling boats.”
The attorney in that case works for the same Clayton law firm that represents Jim Turntine, owner of TNT Amusements of Sullivan, who late last year filed a lawsuit asking a judge to shut down the Torch devices at a truck stop along Interstate 44 in Cuba.
That case was transferred to St. Louis County Circuit Judge Kristine Kerr in June.
Torch contends its machines are legal because, the company says, there is no element of chance associated with their games.
The company says players have the opportunity to click an icon showing the outcome of a wager.
But there is little incentive to click the icon, because even if the icon shows the player losing their next bet, the player still has to move forward with the losing bet in order to have a chance at winning again.
In addition, unlike legalized games, portions of company revenue aren’t diverted to public education, and there are no official exclusion lists for addicted gamblers.
There are also no laws establishing minimum payouts, which means the companies can pay players less than operators of regulated slot machines.
Efforts to regulate the machines stalled in the Legislature this year. The Missouri Highway Patrol, meanwhile, has referred dozens of illegal gambling cases to local prosecutors within the last year.
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