160 warrants served in Utah over coin-pusher, slot machines

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SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Attorney General's Office has launched a statewide crackdown on coin pusher and slot machines, saying they violate Utah's gambling laws.

Starting Wednesday morning, law enforcement officers statewide began executing about 160 search warrants from Cache County to Washington County at gas stations, convenience stores, restaurants and anywhere else that has these games of chance, said Leo Lucey, chief investigative officer for the Utah Attorney General's Office.

Investigators were still serving warrants late Thursday afternoon. An estimated 400 to 600 machines were expected to be shut down statewide, according to Lucey.

The main targets were coin-pusher machines — which people put quarters into in order to try and get more quarters or even dollar bills to fall from moving trays — and slot machines, where a person pays for a card, puts that card in the slot machine to play, and then gets a receipt at the end that sometimes results in a payout, Lucey said.

The investigation was prompted in part by three Utah lawmakers: Rep. Norm Thurston, R-Provo, Rep. Justin Fawson, R-North Ogden, and Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo. When the machines were first introduced a couple of years ago, lawmakers weren't sure whether they were legal. Then they said they started getting complaints from constituents.

"We had a lot of complaints about kids as young as 8 or 10 going and putting in quarters and trying to get a $50 bill sitting on top of the quarters. You can put a lot of quarters in and that $50 bill is never going to drop," Thurston said.

Anyone who monitored the games for a short amount of time would see it's gambling, he said.

Lawmakers and law enforcement officers met in July to put together a plan on how to crack down on the machines.

"This needed to be a statewide effort. We needed to drive this out statewide in a single motion, and the cities and prosecutors were having a really hard time doing it individually," Fawson said.

The coin machines in question are different from the ones that give out game tokens or tickets at arcades or skating rinks.

"If it's just for tokens or just for tickets, then it's OK. But if it's money, it's a totally different thing," Fawson said.

Some of the machines give out gumballs whenever a quarter is added, in addition to the possibility of winning money. But according to the Utah Attorney General's Office, that does not make exempt to the state's gambling laws. Some of the gumballs were so old they were stale, said attorney general spokesman Dan Burton, and some machines were still operating even though their gumball supply had run out.

Investigators also found that some stores required patrons who won money to fill out federal gambling forms, according to Fawson.

As of Thursday, no arrests had been made and no criminal charges filed. After information from the search warrants is collected, Lucey said investigators will look over who knew what.

"If we find that the (store) owners were compliant, or knowledgeable or were profiting from criminal activity and were aware or that or should have been aware of that, they could be charged. At this time, none of them have been charged," he said.

Investigators will also look at Western Coin, the company that investigators believe was "very aggressively" marketing the machines and convincing store and gas station owners to place them in their businesses, according to Lucey.

One of the 160 warrants served Thursday was at Western Coin's Salt Lake City office, 2492 Custer Road.

Lucey said investigators will be looking at the suppliers and manufacturers of the coin machines and slot machines as well as the stores that housed them.

"It's not clear what business owners knew," Thurston said.

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Pat Reavy


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