Two Seymour businesses with video-gaming machines in their respective buildings — the Hot Spot convenience store and Seymour Liquor & Tobacco — must remove the aforementioned machines in 10 days or face criminal charges, according to a letter mailed last Tuesday, Oct. 20, Webster County Prosecuting Attorney Ben Berkstresser.
Per Berkstresser’s letter, the machines must be removed by this Friday.
“I don’t expect to see that happen,” Seymour Police Chief Steven Pogue said.
Why the skepticism?
“In past conversations, it was made very clear to me that the machines wouldn’t be removed,” Pogue said.
“I hope that both the businesses here comply. In Webster County, when the prosecutor says to do something, I think it’s smart to comply with what he asks.”
In Berkstresser’s letter, a detailed explanation was given why he wants the machines removed by this month’s end. Berkstresser also told both businesses the potential consequences if the machines remain in their buildings.
His letter to each business said, “From the investigation from the Missouri (State) Highway Patrol, there is information that your store has gaming machines that have been determined to be illegal gambling devices under the laws of the state of Missouri. On Sept. 23, the Honorable Thomas Fincham, after trial, found Integrity Vending guilty beyond a reasonable doubt of promoting gambling in the first degree, a Class E felony, for setting up a gambling device at a business in Platte County. Sentencing of defendant has not yet occurred.
“Based upon information from the highway patrol, your store did contain and allow gambling devices I believe to be exactly similar to those devices in the Platte County case. Previously, I had decided, after communicating with law-enforcement agencies and other investigating agencies, to withhold pursuing charges on these devices until the Platte County case had resolved. I, along with law-enforcement agencies, believed and now our belief is confirmed, that these gaming machines are judicially determined to be illegal gaming devices.
“It is possible for there to be additional investigation; however, based upon these devices being located in your store, the state would be requesting the investigating agencies’ update and supplemental criminal investigations and reports on your store, and if appropriate, submit probable-cause statements so that criminal charges can be pursued. At this time, at the very least, I would expect charges to include the Class E felony of promoting gambling in the first degree, for each illegal gambling device in the store, by having these illegal gambling devices on your premises.
“To avoid the potential charges being filed, I would request that you pull these illegal gambling devices out of service immediately and provide verification of their removal to my office within 10 days from the date of this letter. If these devices are removed, then the state will defer pursuing criminal charges for these illegal gambling devices for two years, so long as these illegal gambling devices are not returned to service or replaced with similar devices. If there are no new offenses of this nature alleged to have been committed in the two-year period, then the state agrees to not pursue charges on the current allegations. Of course, this would not and does not absolve or bind the state from pursuing charges for these violations, if committed after the two-year period.
“If the store chooses to continue to keep these illegal gambling devices in service, then, upon receipt of an investigation packet with probable-cause statement from the appropriate investigating law-enforcement agency, the state would pursue criminal charges for promoting gambling in the first degree, a Class E felony. In addition to the punishments available under a Class E felony, the state can also choose to pursue seizing the device(s), and to obtain enrichment the store may have received from it, up to $20,000. Each device would constitute a separate charge.
“It is my hope that this request is considered, and the choice is made to remove from service any gambling device in your store. Please contact me with verification the illegal devices have been removed from service and any other questions you may have.”