As Torch Electronics is caught in a legal dispute with state authorities over the status of gaming devices at truck stops, Missouri’s AG has chosen to return contributions by the company.
Missouri AG Distance Himself from Torch Electronics
Missouri attorney general Eric Schmitt has been embroiled in a mild controversy involving contributions by Steven Miltenberger and his spouse, Sondra Miltenberger. The pair own Torch Electronics, a company that manufactures gaming devices (VLTs).
The issue arose when Steven Miltenberger faced charges that he had been operating what is claimed to be “thousands of illegal slot machines” at gas stations across the state. Miltenberger has denied all wrongdoing and launched a lawsuit against the Missouri Highway Patrol alleging constant harassment.
AG Schmitt, though, has decided to return the contributions so as to avoid a conflict of interest in state litigation against a campaign contributor. The attorney general communicated through spokesman Chris Nuelle late last week and stated: “There was no violation of office policy, but out of an abundance of caution, it’s my understanding that the donation is going to be returned.”
All contributions have been returned back to the Miltenbergers. Schmitt, though, is hardly the only politician who has been backed by the family. According to media outlets, the machines operated by the Miltenbergers constitute an illegal form of gambling.
The Story behind Missouri’s Terminals and Their Non-Regulation
There have been some red flags by the look of it. According to St. Louis Post-Dispatch, which did the original reporting, the Miltenbergers contributed $90,000 to house speaker Steve Tilley.
The same person tried to block legislation that was aimed at legalizing and taxing video gambling terminals available at truck stops, gas stations, and other venues.
Those looking to legalize the machines and give them a proper public framework argued that these terminals were promoting illegal gambling and that it was ultimately lost for state education and public funds. Some efforts to regulate VLTs have most recently come from Sen. Denny Hoskins, but no progress could be made on this before Missouri’s legislative session starts again on December 1, 2021.
In the meantime, Torch Electronics launched a lawsuit against the Missouri Highway Patrol responding to authorities’ efforts to crack down on illegal gambling, which included the Miltenbergers’ machines, according to the police at least.
However, Torch has provided arguments that its devices do not break the law. While Torch Electronics and owners may have a point, the fact remains that without a public framework regulating slot machines, questions over their legality and a contentious relationship with law enforcement will continue to dictate how these devices are treated in the state of Missouri.
In April, we reported that Missouri lawmakers shot down a law that would have regulated VGTs in the state and possibly led to a fully-fledged sports betting industry. While the Miltenbergers may not be breaking any laws, as they contend, the question remains if Missouri would not benefit more from having active laws that regulate and tax such devices after all.