A Cole County judge, Judge Daniel Green, dismissed a lawsuit filed by Torch Electronics, a major distributor of unregulated slot machines, just one day before it was set to go to trial.
Mixed Reactions to Torch Electronics’ Lawsuit Dismissal
The case, filed in 2021 by Torch Electronics and Warrenton Oil Company, aimed to establish the legality of their machines, which they claimed were designed for amusement purposes despite offering cash prizes. Torch argued that its machines were being unfairly targeted by the state. However, the state contended that the company was attempting to shield itself from prosecution.
Judge Green’s decision to dismiss the lawsuit has sparked mixed reactions. Torch attorney Charles Hatfield expressed disappointment, announcing the company’s intention to appeal the ruling, reported The Missouri Independent. On the other side, Mike Winter, executive director of the Missouri Gaming Association, which represents the state’s regulated riverboat casinos, voiced concerns about the proliferation of unregulated machines. Winter argued that the decision allows these machines to continue operating, impacting individuals who may struggle with gambling problems.
The lawsuit had broader political implications, with attorneys for Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey withdrawing from the case earlier due to alleged conflicts of interest related to campaign contributions from political action committees linked to Torch’s lobbyist, former Missouri House Speaker Steve Tilley.
Judge’s Ruling Leaves Missouri’s Unregulated Gambling Industry Hanging
Bailey’s ambiguous stance on unregulated gambling in the state sparked controversy, with rising complaints about illegal gambling machines. Bailey cited the complexity of the problem, while lobbying efforts from pro-gambling groups continued to hinder progress. The lack of political will and vague legislation have allowed illegal slot machines to proliferate, leading to over 170 complaints to the state regulator in 2023.
Attorney Scott Pool, representing the state, welcomed the judge’s decision, asserting that such matters should be resolved through criminal cases rather than civil lawsuits. Pool emphasized that the state’s law enforcement agencies, including the Highway Patrol, would continue to investigate complaints and seize machines suspected of illegal gambling activities. Whether local prosecutors choose to file criminal charges remains at their discretion.
While the case was seen as an opportunity to shed light on the unregulated gaming industry’s spread throughout Missouri, Judge Green’s ruling has left the legal status of these machines in limbo. The dismissal allows Torch Electronics and similar companies more time to install additional machines in various establishments while the legal battle continues in the appellate courts.