Missouri judge to rule on legality of electronic raffle games in January • Missouri Independent

A protracted legal battle over what is and is not an illegal slot machine will be decided in early January, just days before a Florida company goes on trial for setting up its devices in a Linn County Eagles lodge.

Associate Circuit Judge Tracey Mason-White will decide whether Tritium International Consultants, which provides machines he calls electronic raffles, should be exempt from prosecution because its games are protected by the Missouri Constitution.

After six machines were seized in September 2019 at the Eagles Lodge in Brookfield, Tritium sued Linn County District Attorney Shiante McMahon. That didn’t stop McMahon from filing gambling fee promotion crime against the company.

At the end of oral argument on Wednesday, the judge asked McMahon and Nelson Mitten, attorney for Tritium, to file the final records in the case by January 3. Mason-White is to preside over a jury trial in the upcoming criminal case. January 25.

In court on Wednesday, Mitten did not deny the machines would be illegal in most parts of the state. Instead, he focused on where they were used – the Eagles are a tax-exempt organization – to maintain that no laws were broken.

Below the constitution of Missouri, “Any organization recognized as charitable or religious in accordance with federal law” may organize prize draws and prize draws. There is no definition of a raffle in the statutes, but there is a provision that protects “Activities authorized by the Constitution” prosecution for illegal gambling.

This law protects bingo games, the Missouri lottery and games at licensed casinos as well as raffles.

“It is our claim that the Missouri electronic raffle machine constitutes an electronic raffle,” Mitten said. “I would first like to mention that there is no discussion in the constitutional provision that limits the type of raffle to be undertaken. It’s wide and simply says, basically, any raffle.

The machine mimics a raffle, the company argues, by creating electronic tickets with several randomly selected winners. In each round of the game, the player selects a ticket and it is compared to the winners. When the player stops playing, the raffle ends.

McMahon, in his arguments, focused on the machines themselves and said his experts found it to violate state law. In one preliminary hearing in February in the criminal case, electronic games specialist Cody Hanavan of the Missouri Gaming Commission testified that the machines function like a regular slot machine.

“The real functionality of this machine – it works like a gaming device,” McMahon said. “What Tritium is trying to do is say that because the Eagles are using it, it’s not illegal.”

If the Eagles are to hold a raffle, she said, their business is constitutionally protected.

“It’s not the activity of Tritium, and the claimant here is Tritium,” McMahon said. “Yes, they continue to coach the Eagles there, but the plaintiff is Tritium, all by himself, and not the Eagles.”

McMahon is the only state prosecutor to file a complaint about the tritium machines. In a previous hearing, an attorney for Tritium noted that the company owned machines in 39 counties.

Under the agreement that Tritium has with the organizations that host its machines, the profits after paying the winners are split evenly.

Tritium machines differ from “pre-reveal” machines in hundreds of convenience stores and other locations across the state. The companies that operate these machines claim that they are legal because a player can know the outcome of the next game round and withdraw their bet if they lose money.

Torch Electronics and other suppliers, as well as companies providing outlets to house the machines, have been charged in a handful of cases, but most state attorneys were reluctant do this.

The torch is prosecution of a civil case in Cole County block all prosecutions for the use of its games

Mason-White will make his decision on what time the General Assembly will meet for its annual session and several bills have already been

Lawmakers have struggled to come to an agreement on new laws to clearly designate gambling as illegal, as heavy lobbying pressure from vendors stalled their efforts. Bills tabled for the next session would specifically ban Tritium machines as well as the pre-reveal games.

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