Statewide sting targets illegal gambling machines

In this file photo, machines at the Chevron on 990 W. Buena Vista Blvd., as well as other establishments statewide, were locked down by the Utah Attorney General's Office during a sting operation, Washington City, Utah, March 2, 2017 | Photo by Mike Cole, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — The Utah Attorney General’s Office conducted a large-scale sting Wednesday on several business establishments throughout the state – including in Southern Utah – that have been allegedly attempting to circumvent the law prohibiting gambling.

Multiple gas stations, small markets, ethnic markets and restaurants were targeted as having machines that have been identified as “slot machines,” “coin pushing machines” or “coin pushers,” said Leo Lucey, Attorney General’s Office Chief Criminal Investigator.

In a press release issued Thursday afternoon, the Attorney General’s Office stated the operation identified more than 500 suspect machines or more at over 130 locations across the state.

Machines at the Chevron on 990 W. Buena Vista Blvd., as well as several other establishments statewide, were locked down by the Utah Attorney General’s Office Wednesday with signs over the screens warning that tampering with the machines would result in criminal prosecution, Washington City, Utah, March 2, 2017 | Photo by Mike Cole, St. George News

Users of the machines are either directly inserting cash or using tokens or “value cards” purchased from a store clerk to operate the machines, Lucey said, but the common ingredient that makes the machines illegal is the payout.

“In the end, they are paid out in cash,” Lucey said, “either directly by the machine or by the clerk at the counter.”

The investigation started last summer, Lucey said, when the Attorney General’s Office was approached by three legislators – Rep. Norman Thurston, Rep. Justin Fawson and Sen. Curtis Bramble – who said they had received complaints from their constituents about the machines.

A concern cited by many of the constituents was that there are no age restrictions on using the machines. Lucey said:

A lot of these machines are being used by juveniles, so it’s putting them in areas where there is a lot of other vice activity that takes place. … Youth were frequenting these and being exposed to other vice activity because of the (older) people that were frequenting these machines. … We know through our investigation that people of all ages, I think as young as 10-year-olds, have been observed playing the machines.

The execution of the search warrants started Wednesday but is still ongoing, Lucey said. Approximately 160 warrants have or will be served, with each warrant representing a business under investigation.

Machines that have been “locked down” now have signs posted over the screens with admonitions not to “tamper with, alter, destroy, conceal or remove anything or item,” as the machines are possible evidence and doing so could subject the person to prosecution.

In addition to violations of specific gambling statutes, Lucey said, investigators are looking into a pattern of unlawful activity or continuing criminal enterprise charges.

“We had tax investigators from the state out with us all day,” Lucey said, “so we’re looking at criminal tax charges as well.”

FOX13 in Salt Lake City reported that Lucey estimated anywhere from $12 million to $24 million flowed through approximately 600 machines throughout the state over a 12 month period. Since Wednesday, Lucey said, about $200,000 in cash and coins has been seized.

No arrests have been made, but the alleged operators of those machines could face multiple felony charges, Lucey said.

In response to the investigation, the owners and management of Intermountain Vending released the following statement:

“Wednesday’s action by the Utah Attorney General’s office was unwarranted and disappointing. First, Intermountain Vending maintains a business address that is open and easily located.  It has a telephone line and number and that office phone number is on each of our game kiosks. We accept and respond to telephone calls. If the AG’s office had issues with our devices or our company we would have been more than happy to meet, provide whatever information was requested, and attempt to address any concerns or issues as we have many times before in various locations.

“Second, our kiosks function has been thoroughly tested and we believe they meet all the requirements of Utah law.

“Now, instead of having a reasonable dialogue and working to resolve any perceived issues, Intermountain Vending will be forced into the unnecessary expense and inconvenience of dealing with this through the courts. Meanwhile, our merchant-customers will lose the benefits of increased foot traffic and retail sales which we provide them and their customers are denied the opportunity to purchase our products and enjoy the entertaining features of our kiosks.

“All in all, the Attorney General’s actions are disappointing and regrettable. However, we will remain ready to approach this in an interactive fashion if possible.”

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Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2017, all rights reserved.

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  • ladybugavenger March 2, 2017 at 7:48 pm

    Lol! That’s too much! Let the people play with their money….get into the lottery business Utah! It’s a huge market and will bring in revenue. So will the marijuana business! Then Utah could get rid of the disgusting food tax (taxing a basic need to survive is inhumane, people are hungry)

  • Have3bratz March 3, 2017 at 1:58 am

    Self-righteous jerks is what I see them as. Its up to the parents in most cases if they want to let the kids play. Hell I let mine when they are with me… Why not it gives them something to do… And if they haven’t already seen what grown up things happen by stopping in the first place then I’m not doing my job right as a parent by showing my kids what reality is all about when you walk into a gas station… People of all sorts are already going to be there now the kinds of people with money!!! Can’t play if you can’t pay!!! My kids are also taught that too if we don’t have the money to play then we get what we came for and we leave… If I want to go gambling I’ll go to Mesquite or Vegas… If I want to show them what really bad people look like we’ll move back Vegas!!! Oh wait they already know what really bad people look like!!! Never once did I go into our usual stop and see hordes of kids putting all of their allowance in or asking people for money so they could play… I always see kids with their parents and it’s the parents right to let them play a dollar or two to let them have their fun at the gas station… Like the article says as young as 10 yrs old that’s how old my kid is and I’ll tell you she has a better look on things then some of these spoiled little brats out here in Utah have(and atleast the kids aren’t younger)… Some will know exactly what I’m talking about!!! Thank you for letting me put my .02¢ in…

    • tracy1363 March 3, 2017 at 12:12 pm

      Sooo if gambling is illegal in the state you are saying it is still okay for the parent to have the right to allow the child to break the law? That does not make sense, unless you are saying parents that drink, do drugs, or other illegal acts should also have the right to choose for their children and allow them to break the law just because mom or dad said it was ok?
      By the way I grew up in Vegas and now I live here where my roots are from in Southern Utah and it sounds like you are describing yourself when talking about “bad people” bad people are not described geographically they are described by actions! Your action to allow children to break the law and to judge “spoiled little brats out here in Utah” makes you one of those “bad people”. By the way don’t dis on brats and then have a username of Have3bratz! If you want to gamble and allow your children to do the same change the law here or I agree with you and you should “move back to Vegas” then you can spend your .02¢ there legally.

  • Chris March 3, 2017 at 10:04 am

    “other vice activity”?? So, hanging out in a gas station/convenience store exposes our youth to “other vices.” Sounds like we need a major crackdown on what goes on in our local gas station. It makes my habitual gas stop sound a lot more fun than I ever suspected.

  • Chris March 3, 2017 at 10:06 am

    Maybe, I’m stretching it, but by the reasoning of the state, wouldn’t the old-time “crane” machines in the entrance of Walmart be illegal gambling devices too?

    • tracy1363 March 3, 2017 at 12:03 pm

      The difference is money in, then money out. The cranes in other stores are for entertainment; you pay money and maybe get a prize. Gambling is paying money up front in the hopes of increasing the amount of money as a pay out.

  • Real Life March 3, 2017 at 12:18 pm

    The Nazis are going to make it illegal to have any kind of fun, whatever, wherever in Utah.

  • ladybugavenger March 4, 2017 at 11:33 am

    I wouldn’t even consider those games as being gambling lol but then again I wouldn’t be able to bet you your lunch money on a game of pool at the bar, right? It’s illegal right? Lol….wanna play for a beer? Oh wait! That’s illegal too. Geeeeeeeze, lighten up people!

  • ladybugavenger March 4, 2017 at 11:35 am

    Those claw machines are gambling! It’s a gamble if you win or not. Just keep putting in money for nothing!

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