ST. LOUIS - Illegal video gambling machines are popping up all over the St. Louis area. You'll find them in bars, restaurants, and gas stations, but there's been no enforcement until now.
One Missouri legislator thinks our state is missing out on tens of millions of dollars in revenue. He wants to legalize video gambling machines in bars. Many people think they're already legal because the machines are showing up in so many Missouri businesses without any challenges.
Even the manager at one gas station believed the machines were legal. He had two in the back of his BP.
Five businesses in Florissant also thought they were legal. Florissant Police Chief Timothy Lowery said the gaming company was flashing two letters from respected law firms. The letters claimed the machines operate a legal raffle.
"They had these letters - this company's coming in, they're saying these things are legal and believed they were doing what was proper and obviously it is not," Chief Lowery said. "They're illegal."
Chief Lowery found out they're illegal from the Missouri Gaming Commission. He then assigned an officer who worked with the five Florissant businesses to get them out.
"I personally have nothing against these machines. It's just, you know, let's do it legal," he said. "If the state legislators in Jefferson City want to make them legal then let's make them legal. Let's have a commission that regulates them. Let's make sure the State's getting their fair share."
That's why Missouri Representative Bart Korman is trying to legalize the machines. He said it could generate between $80 million and $90 million annually for education.
Korman points to the success in Illinois where the state's gaming board issues detailed revenue reports. If you look at Belleville alone, the state reports nearly $1,791,104.00 for taxpayers last year with its video gambling machines. You can even look at an individual business. Machines at one bowling alley alone reportedly brought in $154,081.84 for taxpayers last year.
"I think it's time for our lottery system to advance as well," Rep. Korman said. "You know we're not in - our businesses here in the State of Missouri are not using carbon paper anymore. They're using copy machines and digital signatures and electronic PDF now, so I think our lottery system needs to have that ability to step up and advance."
In Missouri, it's unclear where the money's going. One gas station owner with machines told me he pays regular taxes on profits, but there's no gaming regulator checking tax distribution and no one is checking the machine's payout.
"You want it to be a legal machine because then it's regulated to make sure the payout is a fair payout," Korman said. "If it's an illegal machine that has a payout, you don't know if it's a 10 percent buyout or an 85 percent payout."
The Florissant Police Department appears to be the only department taking action.
"We've got all these machines out of the City of Florissant but it has been time-consuming," Chief Lowery said. "(My officer has) taken a lot of his time to go around and make sure the right thing is being done and I think a lot of the other departments haven't taken the time at this point."
Chief Lowery said he hopes other municipalities also enforce the law so that there will be an even playing field for all businesses in the St. Louis area.