FF12 HIGH STAKES: What illegal gambling machines look like in Kansas

WICHITA, Kan. (KWCH) "They are illegal. The only place in Kansas slot machines are legal are in the recognized casinos."

It's that simple, according to Kansas Racing and Gaming Commission Enforcement Officer Fred Waller. Waller, standing next to three illegal machines the state has seized in the past, said there's no gray area in the law and no argument otherwise.

But some disagree.

You'll find them in smoke shops, gas stations and some restaurants across town. Though sometimes they're tucked in the back of the businesses, most places who have them aren't trying to hide them. Those who sit and play them don't seem to be trying to keep themselves concealed either.

Yet every few months a new business is visited by police officers and dozens of machines go in the back of a truck.

Waller said it's not just the store owners who are on the hook for these machines either.

"Technically yes, you could be arrested," Waller said if you're caught playing one of the illegal machines. That's rare though and is left up to police and the county district attorney.

"They look like regular slot machines, some of them, most of them do but they're not legal. Simple as that," Waller said.

FactFinder 12 went to Topeka and took a look at some of these machines as state agents walked us through how they work. They're not like slot machines at casinos and that's where the arguments come in.

"One of the things they talk about on here that you can press a button that tells you if you're going to win before they even play the game or not," Waller showed us explaining how some shop owners argue there's no "chance" involved if the machine tells you if you're going to win.

The problem is, the machines that give you that warning do not allow you to take your money out if you're going to lose.

Then there's the cash out issue.

Say you put $20 in an illegal machine. Waller showed us how you can play and lose $5 and then win 25 cents. At a casino, you could then cash out for $15.25. However, with some of these machines, you can only take out your winnings. So you could only cash out with 25 cents. You'd have to play your remaining money.

"They're also saying one of the things, some of them you can push the button to stop the roll and they're saying that's a game of skill then," Waller said. "Well there's no skill involved. When you push the button, it stops."

That's another argument by some shop owners who say a player's ability to push the button to stop the machine at the right time makes it a game of skill. Waller said after doing extensive forensics on these machines, it's clear that's not the case.

He added there's no way that's possible anyway with some of the machines that tell you if you're going to win.

Then there's the payouts.

"You go to a Kansas casino, they have to pay out a minimum of 87% at a casino. These are not regulated. They can set them at any percent they want. They don't pay out very well. You know we've done tests on them. They don't pay near that 87%," Waller said.

Many gamblers will argue Kansas casino machines don't pay out 87% of the time. Waller said that's because the percentage is for the life of the machine, not just the one day a player puts his or her money in.

He said his team has found the percentages on the illegal machines can reach as low as percentages in the 40's.

So why do shop owners put these machines in their stores? Though no owners wanted to go on camera, several told FactFinder 12 the machines are a valuable resource to bring in business.

One business owner argued the machines aren't hurting anyone and once they were pulled from his business, he had to close his restaurant.

Most business owners with these machines didn't want to talk about the positive aspects of them with FactFinder 12.

"Obviously they're making a lot of money doing it or they wouldn't take the risk."

Stephenie Roberts is a gambling addiction counselor in Wichita. She said the business owners are making significant amounts of money on these machines. Typically, there's a vendor that puts the machines in and gets a cut of the profits. The business gets a cut too. But the state says it’s all illegal.

"The legislature legalized casinos in Kansas," Roberts said. "Many people can go and gamble without any problems. They go for a weekend of fun or an evening of fun. But we need to put as many protections in place for those who do get hooked and that's what the legislature intended."

Roberts is talking about the mandate in the law that 2% of the casino revenue goes towards helping gambling addicts. She said that means addicts can get free counseling services and she's never seen an issue with there not being enough money to cover that.

That kind of help doesn't come from the businesses who have the illegal machines.

"They're there to do their other job for that business. They're just hoping, or at least the owners are hoping you'll put some money in the machine while you're there. And there's no way to ban yourself with those. The only gambling activity you can ban yourself from are state owned casinos," Roberts said.

Though casinos and the other businesses are all looking to make money, Roberts said those in casinos often try to help addicted gamblers instead of encourage them.

"I've had gamblers who have sat at the machine for days on end. Fortunately, someone from the casino, because it was a casino gambler, came up to them and made a suggestion that maybe they should leave because they were concerned about their welfare," Roberts said.

"You're not going to find that at an illegal machine until it's time for them to close the shop and they want to go home."

Regardless of how you feel about gambling, casinos or the state's laws, Waller said the point is the same - you're not only taking a chance at winning or losing your money, you're also taking a chance at landing in trouble with the law.