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Council considers bill to curb cash-prize gaming machines in the city 

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Springfield City Council is taking aim at gaming machines in an ordinance introduced last night. 

The ordinance would add a section to the city code to ban what it refers to as entertainment devices offering monetary prizes. It’s referring to the machines found in gas stations, smoke shops, fraternal halls and gaming rooms that allow customers to place bets on electronic outcomes. 

Council plans to vote on the proposed ordinance Feb. 12. 

Missouri law allows unregulated gaming devices known as pre-reveal or no-chance machines that its proponents say do not meet the legal definition of gambling. Across the country, some states and localities have targeted pre-reveal machines, which the Florida legislature defines as those in which the player must press a preview button before they can play. “The preview button displays the outcome of the next game but not the game after that,” the legislative record states.  

Council is not entering into the fray about whether the machines constitute games of chance or gambling. Rather, the ordinance proposed by members Monica Horton and Matt Simpson targets the monetary prizes.  

The new code language would state the following: 

“No person shall maintain or offer for use by any person any entertainment device that offers a monetary prize to any person regardless of the frequency with which a monetary prize is conferred or the odds of any individual user realizing a monetary prize.” 

The proposed code language defines “entertainment device” as any device operating for the entertainment or amusement of the operator, whether or not manipulated by the operator, and it includes any video game or electronic game, regardless of the rules of play. 

It also defines monetary prize as any prize in the form of cash, check, bank transfer, negotiable instrument, store credit, gift card, or a ticket or item redeemable for any of those instruments. 

Springfield Chief Litigator Christopher Hoeman said the bill is a response to numerous complaints by community members about the machines. 

“It does not regulate or prohibit any specific format of game play,” he said. “The focus of this particular bill is on the format of the prizes – so any prizes that pay out the monetary format or can easily be converted into monetary format would be prohibited if this bill were to be adopted by council.” 

Hoeman said the bill contains penalty provisions that include minimum fines that increase as people reoffend. 

“Ultimately, with repeat offenses, offenders can also be looking at mandatory jail sentences as well,” he said. “Those were included at the request of one sponsor in particular, the concern there being to kind of overcome any profit motives to continue to operate the machines illegally.” 

Hoeman said the reason the bill focuses on the format of prizes rather than game play is to avoid any potential overlap with state gambling law. 

“Any format of game as far as the rules for the player, if this bill passes, you would still be able to run those games,” he said. “What you would be limited in is the format of the prizes you could offer to players of those games.” 

Simpson clarified that the penalties are tied to each machine, so where there are multiple machines being operated, each would constitute its own violation. Hoeman said for those running multiple machines, each sentence would run consecutively to all other sentences for violations of the same ordinance. 

Councilmember Brandon Jenson noted the bill would not impact businesses operating games with non-monetary awards, like 1984, which is a video game arcade, or Incredible Pizza, which has various games for children. 

The bill calls for the first offense to carry a fine of $500-$1,000 and up to 180 days in jail. 

Councilmember Craig Hosmer said that is not typical for a first offense in the city of Springfield. 

Hoeman said the bill is an outlier in that regard, but it was crafted to address a concern of sponsor Simpson. 

“If you’re making enough money running the machines and you can get probation or low-level fines, it may be worth it just to take your convictions, pay the fine and keep running your machines,” Hoeman said. “He was trying to look down the road and overcome that.” 

A vigorous public comment period followed the introduction of the bill, with around a dozen speakers representing neighborhoods, mental health and recovery organizations, convenience stores and a veteran organization. 

Dan Shaul, director of the Missouri Grocers Association, said his organization has several hundred members throughout the state. 

“We understand you have a problem – we understand it. We want to be part of that solution,” he said. 

He cautioned against unintended effects, like moving the problem outside of the city or hurting fraternal and veteran organizations and small businesses. 

“Today, one of our concerns is if we ban entertainment devices, what could be tomorrow? Let’s be careful in that slope,” he said. 

He added that his organizations members want to make sure they can sell everything they can possibly sell and not be limited by local government. 

Adam Naegler, general manager of Fast n’ Friendly convenience stories, also addressed council, noting his family’s stores have been in town since 1985. 

“We’re not a fly-by-night company. We’re here to stay. We’ve been around,” he said. 

He said that his stores have added the machines but have not seen an increase in crime. Rather, he pointed to gaming rooms, instead of convenience stores, as the problem, citing in particular Lucky 7, located at the Plaza Shopping Center at Glenstone Avenue and Sunshine Street. Three speakers with businesses in that shopping center spoke out against the establishment at the meeting. 

“I think it sounds like those are where the bad players are congregating, and I think that’s where the focus needs to be,” Naegler said. 

He added that the machines are a nice source of income for some of his stores that are on the edge of success or failure, and that without them, some staff may have to be cut or a location may have to close. 

“We want to be part of the solution,” he said, noting he wants to work with the city to find something that is best for the economy and for safety. 

The Missouri Independent reports that $2.3 billion is being spent on the gaming machines annually in the state. 

In a statement, Mayor Ken McClure said the machines can result in detrimental impacts to players, including financial hardships and increased reliance on public assistance. 

“Regulation is necessary for the protection of the public health, safety and welfare of our community,” he said. 

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