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Missouri gas station operator charged with illegal gambling in Lincoln County

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Digital Slot Machines

A special amusement device decal from the city of St. Louis is attached to the side of a digital slot machine in South Public Market on Wednesday, Nov. 6, 2019. The decals, which the company Torch Electronics paid $10 each for, allowed the company to place machines across the city.

Photo by Troy Stolt, tstolt@post-dispatch.com

JEFFERSON CITY — The vice president of a Missouri gasoline distributor has been charged with three misdemeanor counts of possession of gambling devices as part of an ongoing crackdown on illegal slot machines that have flooded the state.

Mark Thomas Baker, 61, of Chesterfield, faces an April 12 court date at the Lincoln County Justice Center in Troy after the Missouri State Highway Patrol investigated a complaint about slot machines at a Fast Lane gas station and convenience store, where police said he is the managing officer.

The investigator found four “electronic gambling devices” at the store in Troy on Oct. 21, 2021, following a complaint that there were slot machines inside the establishment, the highway patrol said.

“After investigating the devices located at the Fast Lane, it is my belief they constitute a gambling device, described as any device, machine, paraphernalia, or equipment that is used or usable in the playing phases of any gambling activity,” a probable cause statement notes.

The charges against Baker come as the parent company of Fast Lane, Warrenton Oil, has joined with a politically connected slot machine distributor, Torch Electronics, to sue the highway patrol in an attempt to head off law enforcement scrutiny of the games. Warrenton Oil is based in Truesdale, Missouri.

A year ago, those companies asked a Cole County judge to order state troopers to stop seizing the machines, arguing they aren’t illegal gambling devices.

The lawsuit attempts to quash an investigative subpoena seeking to “compel the production of a wide range of documents ... including third-party contracts/agreements, financial records and technical information,” the lawsuit said.

Those records could show how many machines have been operating in the state and how much money they are generating in bets and how much they are paying out.

The legal action is happening against the backdrop of a multiyear effort in the Legislature to deem the unregulated machines illegal in an attempt to pave the way for a regulated system of video gaming that generates tax dollars for the state and includes rules to keep minors from gambling.

Movement on the concept appears stalled this year while members of the House work on a separate plan to legalize sports betting.

Torch, based in Wildwood, has retained the services of former House Speaker Steve Tilley to lobby on its behalf.

In June 2021, Torch and Warrenton Oil contributed more than $440,000 to a number of political action committees, including six tied to Tilley, who is allied with Gov. Mike Parson. Those PACs have since distributed money to lawmakers involved in the gambling discussions.

Warrenton Oil also gave $2,500 to a PAC raising money on behalf of Parson.

According to charging documents, the Lincoln County prosecuting attorney’s office said additional machines were found at Fast Lane stores in Moscow Mills and Winfield. The misdemeanor charges could be punishable by up to one year in jail or prison or a fine of up to $2,000.

Additionally, if money or property has been gained through the commission of the crime, any fine imposed may be not more than double of the offender’s gain, up to a maximum of $20,000, the charging document notes.

Baker could not be reached for comment Friday. An attorney is not listed in court records.

Originally posted at 1 p.m. Friday, Feb. 25.

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