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Springfield City Council hears passionate debate on unregulated gambling machines

Springfield City Council hears a presentation on a bill that would ban entertainment devices with monetary prizes inside city limits at the January 22, 2024 meeting.
Courtesy City of Springfield screenshot
Springfield City Council hears a presentation on a bill that would ban entertainment devices with monetary prizes inside city limits at the January 22, 2024 meeting.

For over an hour on Monday night, local residents had their say on a new proposed ordinance that would crack down on unregulated entertainment devices with monetary prizes.

“First of all, you need to understand that unregulated gambling has no place in this city.”

That’s Aimee Jackson. She told KSMU she’s been emailing Council about so-called “no-chance” gambling machines for at least six months. She says the machines are “not okay” and they’re devastating Springfield.

She told Council, “Don’t let these businesses fool you into thinking that people are just here for fun and cheer and this is a nice thing and people can stop because that’s not the truth."

If adopted, the bill would ban from Springfield any sort of commercial entertainment device that offers a monetary prize. In recent years these video gambling machines have proliferated across Missouri. The Missouri Gaming Association estimates some 14,000 gambling machines exist outside of the lawful riverboat casino system.

Violations to Springfield’s proposed ordinance would be met with a $500 fine on the first offense, with escalating penalties to curb the profit motive for running the machines. Multiple violations could be met with a $1,000 dollar fine and 30 days in jail, up to 180 days in jail.

“At my parents’ shop, we’ve had customers, men, come in and intimidate our customers, they come in and wander around the nail shop, before demanding to use the restroom. We’ve seen customers complain about people exchanging money. We’ve seen prostitutes coming around.”

That’s Ben Mai. He says his family’s nail shop has been open in the Plaza shopping center since the mid-1990s. He’s no fan of nearby gaming machines.

Mai told Council, “They target working-class individuals, people with low income, people who are older, who are in danger of getting addicted.”

Residents said the machines are also linked to drug abuse and other social ills. Here’s Zachary Rogers. He’s a church leader and he drives a taxi cab.

“The amount of obsession is totally consuming with them. When I’ve first seen the neglect to their children as we’re driving them to these places, their kids are sitting outside or sitting next to the machines.”

Others spoke out in favor of more lenient regulations than the ones proposed by the city. Here’s Mike Goforth, commander of a local American Legion post, arguing that revenue from the machines is important. It helps his group give back to the community.

“We’ve been operating the no-chance games since 2021," Goforth told Council, "and we’ve never had any problems with criminal behavior.”

The state director of the Missouri Grocers Association — a former state legislator — was also on hand to urge Council to largely let consumers decide the issue. Here’s Dan Shaul.

“We want to help," he said. "We want to solve this problem. We want to make sure retail can operate in a manner that doesn’t — that we don’t have to put extra money into crime prevention.”

The bill is sponsored by Councilwoman Monica Horton and Councilman Matt Simpson. It’s expected to come up for a vote on February 12.

Gregory Holman is a KSMU reporter and editor focusing on public affairs.