Published: November 29, 2023

Video gambling machines jump fivefold in St. Louis

As lawyers turn to a state appeals court for a decision on the future of unregulated slot machines in Missouri, the ongoing expansion of the industry can be seen up close in gas stations and convenience stores across St. Louis.

Since 2019, the number of the potentially illegal gambling terminals registered in the city has ballooned fivefold, from about 50 machines to more than 250.

According to documents obtained through the Sunshine Law, St. Louis License Collector Mavis Thompson awarded the amusement decals to Wildwood-based Torch Electronics in July at a rate of $10 per sticker.

The license collector’s office issues permits for a wide range of businesses in St. Louis. One category includes coin-operated amusement devices such as pool tables, jukeboxes and, in the case of Torch’s machines, the gaming terminals.

The company, which earlier sued the state in an attempt to block state and local prosecution of their business model, also paid a $200 license fee in order to conduct business within the city borders. Torch, which has hired a powerful lobbying firm to fight legislative attempts to ban the machines, is listed as a provider of "electrical services,” the records show.

Industry watchers like officials at the Missouri Lottery say the expansion of the games has been alarming.

"Everyone has been surprised by the spread of these machines, both in Missouri and around the country,” Lottery spokeswoman Wendy Baker said in an email.

The terminals, which have become a common fixture in retail stores across the state, work like 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, which regulates the state’s 13 licensed casinos, has deemed machines being distributed by Torch and other companies as "gambling devices,” which are prohibited outside the casinos.

The Lottery also is monitoring the spread of the machines, saying their presence could draw people away from buying scratch-off tickets and other Lottery products.

And the association representing Missouri’s 13 gambling casinos also says the machines could be siphoning players from their establishments.

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