Second federal lawsuit filed against Missouri slot machine company

St. Louis Today
Second federal lawsuit filed against Missouri slot machine company

JEFFERSON CITY — A politically connected company that has flooded Missouri gas stations and truck stops with slot machines is facing a second federal lawsuit.

In a complaint filed Wednesday in Missouri’s Eastern District, a Sullivan-based coin-operated amusement game firm sued Wildwood-based Torch Electronics, arguing its video machines are illegal and have cut into its profits.

TNT Amusements, owned by Jim Turntine, is seeking damages equal to three times the actual damages it has suffered.

“TNT’s revenue has plummeted as a result of Torch’s illegal conduct,” the complaint notes. “The presence of the Torch devices at amusement locations directly impacts TNT’s business.”

The 56-page complaint comes a week after a similar lawsuit was filed in Missouri’s Western District court alleging that Torch violated consumer protection statutes and a federal law used to prosecute organized crime.

The latest legal action comes as Missouri lawmakers have been unable to agree on a way to crack down on the spread of unregulated slot machines in the state, allowing people to gamble without going to officially licensed and taxed casinos.

Missouri’s new attorney general, who was appointed by Republican Gov. Mike Parson, earlier said the matter is up to local county prosecutors.

TNT’s lawsuit against Torch also marks the second filed against them by Turntine’s company. In 2019, TNT asked a Crawford County judge to shut down slot machines placed by Torch in a truck stop on Interstate 44 in Cuba.

The case was transferred to St. Louis County in 2020 and appears to have languished.

The latest lawsuit accuses Torch of mail and wire fraud in its operation of thousands of video slot machines.

Under Missouri law, it says, gambling devices are permitted only in casinos, which in turn must be operated pursuant to a Missouri gaming license.

“Torch does not have a Missouri gaming license and does not operate its amusement devices in a casino,” the complaint notes.

In addition, the lawsuit disputes Torch’s claims that its games comply with Missouri law, citing numerous county-level court cases and a Missouri Gaming Commission decision that calls the machines illegal.

It says the flood of Torch machines has cut into TNT’s business.

“Businesses have limited floor space and every spot taken up by an illegal Torch device is a spot taken away from a legal amusement device such as those offered by TNT,” the complaint says.

“This has gone on long enough,” Turntine told the Post-Dispatch Thursday. “I think it’s not legal and everybody knows it.”

At the same time, Illinois-based video gambling companies are pressuring the Legislature to legalize slot machines outside of casinos, which would bring a taxing structure to the business, as well as create a pool of money to combat compulsive gambling.

Sen. Denny Hoskins, R-Warrensburg, has threatened to hold up passage of sports betting if a video gambling bill isn’t approved. Rep. Rasheen Aldridge, D-St. Louis, also has filed a bill this year that would crack down on the machines, which he says are being played by or near children at convenience stores in his district.

In the federal case filed last week, attorneys are seeking class action status on behalf of players who have lost money on the machines across the state.

Torch says its machines let players know if they will win on their next spin, thus falling outside the definition of state anti-gambling laws. But a player must still play that spin in order to unlock a new chance at winning.

Torch, which has spread more than $650,000 in campaign cash to state politicians, is represented by lobbyist Steve Tilley, a former speaker of the Missouri House and an ally of Gov. Mike Parson.

Torch spokesman Gregg Keller, a Republican Party operative, said Thursday the company does not comment on pending litigation.

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