WEST FORK, Ark. (KNWA) — The Springdale gambling bust was surprising to many Northwest Arkansans, including officers and Alcohol Beverage Control (ABC) employees. The incident led to a push for widespread education to differentiate legal and illegal gambling machines.
“Since they legalized the lottery in Arkansas, we rarely see it,” said Officer Tyler Underwood with the West Fork Police Department. “I haven’t heard of any other than this one [in Springdale].”
ABC spokesperson Scott Hardin said it’s rare to see unlicensed and unregulated machines, which have dotted gas stations and convenience stores throughout the decades in Arkansas. Ever since the lottery was voted through by Arkansans in 2008, gamblers have had the opportunity to partake legally.
“When we walk into one of these, and we see them, they are unlicensed, unregulated, illegal machines,” Hardin said. “Frankly, they prey on the most vulnerable in our society.”
Hardin said unregulated slots and machines can jeopardize fair payouts.
“You go into a gas station, and you put a $10 bill in there, there’s no requirement that they pay [a certain amount] back,” Hardin said.
Though Springdale’s 80,000 service calls each year are significantly more than a smaller city like West Fork, Underwood said the large operation in Springdale was rare for any part of Northwest Arkansas. He said a money exchange separates illegal machines from legal ones.
“Otherwise, it’s just a video game,” Underwood said. “You can play video games, and it’s legal all day, but once they pay money back, that’s when it makes it illegal.”