Missouri treasurer defends ads on gambling machines

St. Louis Today
Missouri treasurer defends ads on gambling machines
Wild Casino

JEFFERSON CITY — The state treasurer of Missouri says he has no plans to remove decals of the official state seal with his name on them from unregulated slot machines as part of an agreement he made with a politically connected company that has flooded gas stations and bars with the gambling devices.

In a letter Friday, Republican Vivek Malek, an appointee of Gov. Mike Parson who is seeking a full, four-year term, said no taxpayer dollars were used to create the stickers, as well as messages on nearby cash dispensing machines that promote his office’s unclaimed property program.

“I met with officials of the video gaming company and they expressed a desire to help spread the word, which I appreciate. Missourians from all walks of life have unclaimed money, and I just want to return it to them,” Vivek wrote in a three-page letter to Rep. Scott Cupps, R-Shell Knob.

At issue are gambling machines operated by Torch Electronics. Cupps spent time last week searching gas stations in southwest Missouri to determine the extent of the free ads and called on members of his budget oversight committee to discuss the matter with Malek.

Cupps said the decals could fool slot machine players into believing the state endorses and, potentially, regulates the controversial gambling machines. It does not.

Malek declined to attend, saying in the letter that he was busy. A hearing has been rescheduled for Tuesday.

A Torch spokesman earlier said Malek approached the company in an effort to help raise the profile of the office’s unclaimed property program.

The treasurer, a political newcomer, pushed back on Cupps’ assertion that the machines are illicit and challenged the lawmaker to pass legislation declaring the current unregulated market illegal.

“The courts at some point may finally decide any such questions, so I will not usurp the role of the judicial branch in this regard. If the courts rule the machines must go, I presume they will go, and with them the decals that were not printed at taxpayer expense,” Malek wrote.

“As you know, the last day for filing bills is one week from today, March 1, and session adjournment is May 17. You and your colleagues still have time to offer and pass legislation settling the matter without waiting for a final judicial decision,” Malek added.

Malek, an attorney from Wildwood, is running for the GOP nomination. Opponents in the August primary include Springfield attorney Lori Rook, Sen. Andrew Koenig of Manchester and Rep. Cody Smith of Carthage, who is the chairman of the powerful House Budget Committee.

Torch, also of Wildwood, has been at the center of the spread of unregulated gambling machines in Missouri gas stations, convenience stores and taverns.

The company unsuccessfully sued the state in an attempt to block the Missouri Highway Patrol from investigating whether the company’s slot machines are illegal.

The company also has contributed money to political action committees linked to its lobbyist, former House Speaker Steve Tilley. Some of that money went to support Attorney General Andrew Bailey, who accepted the campaign cash and then stepped away from defending the state in the lawsuit, forcing taxpayers to pay for outside legal counsel.

Efforts to regulate and tax the machines have fallen short in the Legislature. Springfield officials recently approved ordinances banning the machines in the city.