PLATTE CITY – When the backhoe bucket fell on the first of five illegal slot machines destroyed by court order on Thursday, it collapsed like a cardboard box prepared for recycling.

The chipboard sides offered no pressure resistance, and in about 40 seconds all that was left was a pile of chunks of wood, plastic, and electronic shards as the five machines shattered into thousands of pieces. parts.

“It’s a good day,” said Eric Zahnd, Platte County District Attorney. “There’s a good reason the Missouri legislature has said these should be publicly destroyed. It is a bit of the spectacle of destruction because the legislator wanted to send the message that these machines will not be tolerated in the state of Missouri. It’s a good day.”

The destruction took place at the Platte County Public Works Lot, which has plenty of space and plenty of heavy equipment suitable for the task.

The five machines were seized in 2018 in what remains the only completed lawsuit against a vendor who offers video games that offer a cash prize for placement in convenience stores, truck stops and other locations. Integrity Vending, a Kansas-based company, was convicted of criminally promoting gambling in September 2020 and fined $ 7,500.

But thousands of other similar machines, owned by other vendors, remain in place across the state. Lawmakers have struggled to come to an agreement on new laws to clearly designate gambling as illegal, as strong lobbying pressure from vendors stalled their efforts.

The Platte County prosecution showed no further legislation was needed, Zahnd said ahead of the crash on Thursday.

“In Missouri, the law is clear,” Zahnd said. “These machines are illegal and they must be destroyed.”

Not all prosecutors agree.

There have been hundreds of investigations by local law enforcement and the Missouri State Highway Patrol, but a review by The Independent found that many prosecutors are reluctant to press charges, and some do not believe that the games are illegal.

The main difference between a casino slot machine and games destroyed on Thursday is that the games have a feature that allows a player to see whether their next bet will win or lose. If it is a loser, the player can withdraw their money, cancel the bet, or modify the games or the amounts wagered in search of a winner.

While Integrity Vending has taken its machines out of the state, others have not. The most advanced prosecutions against the vendors are three felony cases in Linn County. In total, around 24 lawsuits, mostly misdemeanor cases, have been filed since early 2019, with estimates putting the number of machines being played in the state at 15,000 or more.

Torch Electronics of Wildwood was the most aggressive in the retaliation. The company and Warrenton Oil Company have teamed up in a lawsuit in Cole County to prevent the Missouri State Highway Patrol from investigating the games. And in early June, about a month after the last effort to regulate gambling in the General Assembly failed, Torch and Warrenton Oil teamed up to donate $ 350,000 to political action committees linked to Steve Tilley, former Speaker of the House and Advisor to Governor Mike Parson. who is lobbying on behalf of Torch.

As a result, the machines were called “gray market” games, operating in the space between an old-fashioned slot machine, which is clearly illegal, and the regulated games offered at casinos and by the Missouri lottery. .

The machines embezzle money from education programs backed by the lottery and special casino gambling taxes, said Sen. Dan Hegeman, R-Cosby, who traveled to Platte City from his home in County D ‘Andrew to witness the destruction.

Lottery and casino games are also regulated for the sake of fairness, Hegeman noted.

For slot machines in casinos – slot machines and those that mimic table games like video poker – the minimum return is 80%. Typically, the 13 casinos pay around 90 percent of the money deposited into the machines.

A minimum of 45 percent of lottery income is spent on prizes.

These guards are not in place for unregulated machines. Hegeman sponsored legislation that would have prevented any vendor offering the machines from converting

Sgt. Craig Hubbell, a detective with the Parkville Police Department, examines the debris from Thursday’s destruction of five illegal slot machines. (Rudi Keller / Independent Missouri)

“I just hope this example will be picked up by other state prosecutors,” he said. “These are not gray market machines. They are black market machines.

The destruction is a satisfying day, said Sgt. Craig Hubbell of the Parkville Police Department, who initiated the investigation which began in October 2018.

“That made the deal close, yes,” Hubbell said after examining the remnants of the machines.

Public destruction assures the public that the machines will not be reused elsewhere, Zahnd said.

“I think there’s no question that the reason the law requires them to be destroyed is because we don’t want them to be put back into circulation,” he said. “And again, the law requires not only that they be destroyed, but that they be publicly destroyed. I think this is an acknowledgment of the particular harm that can come from illegal gambling. “

This was first published by The Missouri Independent, a non-partisan, nonprofit news organization covering state government, politics, and politics, and is reprinted with permission.