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DA: Some Gas Station Gambling Machines Do Violate State Law

/ The Upper Cumberland's News Leader
DA: Some Gas Station Gambling Machines Do Violate State Law

An Upper Cumberland District Attorney said many gaming machines in Upper Cumberland gas stations do violate Tennessee’s gambling laws.

15th District Attorney General Jason Lawson said machines with results that rely on a player’s skill are permissible. He said any activity where a participant risks value for a profit based on chance is considered gambling and can be reported.

“Whenever we look at these machines, sometimes they add a component of skill and that’s why you see things like carnival games where you shoot a basketball through a hoop to win a prize,” Lawson said. “A game of skill is permissible under the law, a game of pure chance for a profit is not permissible.”

Lawson said there have been numerous reports of machines in gas stations and convenience stores that may have been in violation. He said his office sends representatives to examine the machines, and request that the store owner remove the machine if it is determined that it violates the law.

“If we had made a legal determination that a game was in violation of the gambling law and we gave them the opportunity to remove the game and they chose not to remove that, then we would end up charging them with the misdemeanor offense of gambling,” Lawson said.

Baxter Aldermen discussed the issue at the January meeting, concerned about machines located at one of the stations off I-40. Aldermen said the station had become a late-night gathering spot for those looking to gamble.

Lawson said cities and counties can take some steps to govern these machines independently. He said while municipalities cannot make something legal that is illegal at the state or federal level, they can pass an ordinance that outlines conduct permissible within city or county limits, potentially limiting the machines.

“An example of that would be something like a noise ordinance,” Lawson said. “If they passed a noise ordinance within the city limits, they would say that if somebody violates this noise ordinance, then a ticket could be written for that. So there are areas where the city can act broader.”

He said when getting into how broad a city can go, cities can discuss what steps are available with a city attorney. He said some details of the games have to be closely examined to determine whether it is legal or not. He said painting with a broad brush when talking about these machines is difficult because the components of what makes a machine legal or illegal can be complicated.


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