As many freestanding video gaming machines are being removed from locations in and around Murfreesboro, machines from one company are staying right where they are.
Keith Heflin, owner of Worlds of Games in Shelbyville, Tenn., is no stranger to controversy in the world of sweepstakes gaming. Heflin is responsible for making sure that his sweepstakes games are not a form of illegal gambling; however, unlike many others, he’s proven the legality of his games.
Chris White has spent part of his law enforcement career investigating the gaming industry in Middle Tennessee. He said that according to Tennessee law, Heflin’s sweepstakes machines are legal.
“Tennessee has a three-part law regarding gambling, and those three parts are consideration, chance and reward,” White said. “Games like the ones Mr. Heflin owns take out the consideration part, so it becomes like a vending machine where the product you receive is consistent with the purchase price.”
The Worlds of Games sweepstakes machines offer players phone cards for purchase. If a player inserts five dollars into a machine, he or she will receive a valid pre-paid five-dollar phone card. White, a former member of the 17th Judicial District Drug and Violent Crimes Task Force, Bedford County Sheriff’s Department and Murfreesboro Police Department, said since a player is purchasing an item from the machine, it is not gambling.
Though, by purchasing a phone card, a player is automatically entered in to a sweepstakes, or, as required by law, players have the option of entering these sweepstakes for free. White compared these types of sweepstake with the no-purchase-necessary games like McDonald’s Monopoly Sweepstakes and said they are essentially the same type of game because you are buying a product in order to be entered into a sweepstake, but individuals may also enter by requesting a free game piece.
According to a statement from the Tennessee Attorney General’s Office, what makes games similar to Heflin’s illegal is how players purchase game play; however, according to the regulations outlined, Heflin’s machines are not in violation of any laws.
The statement reads, “Tennessee case law indicates that an organization, charitable or otherwise, may lawfully conduct a cash or prize giveaway if all persons wishing to participate are given an opportunity to do so without being required to pay any money, make any donation, or purchase any product or service. If, in reality, all participants in a type of prize giveaway are not paying or giving anything of value to participate, then there is no consideration. ?Consideration’ is negated when no participants pay to play.”
So why are so many other gameowners taking their machines out of local stores and gas stations? White said it is because many of the games actually are illegal.
“There are some guys out there with games like Cherry Master in their stores,” White said. “These are just video slot machines and are illegal.”
According to White, the illegal games are very different from the sweepstakes games Heflin uses. Consideration is a large factor in the legality of games like Cherry Master because players simply put money in to receive a payout or a loss. There is no option to play for free, and players do not make a purchase. White also said that many owners and operators of these illegal video gambling machines do not pay sales tax. Unlike Heflin, who pays sales tax on all transactions, owners are receiving pure profits from their machines.
For Heflin, controversy surrounding his sweepstakes games is nothing new, but he said he takes careful steps to make sure that his games are 100 percent legal.
“The games are covered under three U.S. patents that cover many states,” Heflin said. “Any time problems arise, we modify as necessary to conform to state laws.”
White said that Heflin has been very diligent in keeping his games legitimate and legal, and White himself has actually conducted analyses on his games.
“When I was working for a police department, my sheriff asked me to help conduct forensic tests on several machines,” White said. “The request came from Heflin’s lawyers. His team wanted them tested before they were put out, so they could iron out any problems with legality.”
As many other machines disappear from their posts around town, Heflin’s games remain, leaving other game owners to wonder why their games don’t pass the legality test.
“Heflin has patents on his games to ensure that they are legal; he also pays his sales tax and follows the law,” White said. “If you want to produce machines, take a look at Heflin and do it the way he’s doing it.”