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VIDEO GAMBLING

Either an act is illegal or it isn’t. That which has not been designated illegal is considered legal.

These concepts seem simple enough. But they seem to not apply when it comes to video gambling machines in Wisconsin taverns.

A Caledonia police investigation of two men from out of state scamming local taverns out of money through cheating at video gambling led to a Journal Times report which found that while scamming video gambling machines in taverns has been occurring regularly, because the machines are illegal under state law, it can be a challenge to prosecute the cases. In some cases, people are getting away with it.

“The law is a bit of a mess when it comes to video gaming machines,” said attorney Chris Geary, who represents the Village of Caledonia.

Racine County District Attorney Rich Chiapete explained the cases are problematic to prosecute and said in situations where the machines are placed in a facility contrary to law, “we will not prosecute.” He compared it to a case where an individual is cheated in an illegal dice game or card game and said his office would not prosecute those cases, either.

Even though the District Attorney’s Office declined to issue charges in the recent Caledonia case, the police issued citations totaling $2,687 for each man, said Lt. Gary Larsen of the Caledonia Police Department. State law basically precludes local officials from taking any action on the machines as long as a bar has no more than five machines, Geary said.

“Because the machines, of dubious legality, are nevertheless facts of life in this state, we determined it was appropriate to treat theft as theft,” Geary said in an email. “The alternative would have been to essentially sanction theft, in support of state law that can’t seem to decide whether the devices really ought to be illegal in the first place.”

This is a situation that needs resolution. We understand what the district attorney is saying when he compares video gambling machines to illegal dice games, but we respectfully disagree regarding the comparability. If an illegal activity were being conducted in a licensed place of business, that business would be subject to being shut down, for the night or for good as a liquor-selling establishment. Why aren’t taverns with gambling machines subject to such sanctions?

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Not that we find the taverns blameless in this situation, either. We don’t want to see local businesses ripped off by hustlers who have found a loophole in state law, but we don’t think local businesses with illegal gaming machines on the premises are on quite the same moral footing as the corner grocer who gets robbed at gunpoint.

We have in recent weeks urged Gov. Scott Walker to approve the proposed Menominee Nation casino in Kenosha, so our opposition is not to gambling itself. We are opposed to a murky law/law enforcement combination that, in effect, looks the other way on the presence of illegal gambling machines in a tavern, then does not sufficiently deter theft from taverns with those machines.

The video gambling machines either should be made legal, with those running scams involving the machines prosecuted, or it should be illegal to have even one in your establishment, and businesses allowing their operation should be subject to criminal penalties. Let’s have a clear, unambiguous stance on video gambling in Wisconsin.

Either an act is illegal or it isn’t.

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