A visit to the local gas station usually means filling up the tank and maybe grabbing a coffee or soda and a snack. But that can also mean dropping a few bucks in a slot machine in some U.S. states and jurisdictions. Some visitors may start or end the day by sipping that coffee while spinning some reels and hoping for some winnings.

Gas station slots have grown in popularity and prevalence in recent years, although there is a bit of a vague legal landscape regarding these games. Some states have completely legalized and regulated these types of slots while others have not, and many law enforcement agencies around the country continue to battle their prevalence.

Some states have also seen slots move beyond gas stations and convenience stores, shifting to bars, restaurants, charitable organizations, and grocery stores. Small business owners argue that these games can really boost their bottom lines, keeping them in business and allowing them to pay employees. However, many governmental groups see them as illegal and have sought to eliminate them.

Keep reading to learn all about gas station slot machines and the varying types found across the country, as well as more information on this unique part of the slot world.

1 – What Are Gas Station Slot Machines?

As you might guess, gas station slots are games found in gas stations and convenience stores nationwide. In many places, they function similarly to traditional slots, but they may not include some of the more modern technology, graphics, and sound that one might find in a traditional casino.

Some of these games may even be more akin to a traditional computer than a real slot machine. Game manufacturers may also incorporate a “skill” feature (often a memory component) so that the games can skirt the law by claiming that these slots aren’t games of chance.

These games may feature more basic gameplay as well, although some manufacturers have ramped up their offerings in recent years with more sophisticated games – even offering cash management systems, encrypted tickets and redemption services, and route management systems.

Many gas station slots allow for payouts at the store's actual cash register. The games have become popular with customers and may see them referred to by some differing names, including:

  • Eight-liners

  • Arcade games

  • Skill games

  • VGTs (video game terminals)

  • Electronic gaming machines

2 – Legal and Regulatory Landscape

There is no doubt about the popularity of gas station slot machines, which can be found in differing locales—country stories, inner city venues, and suburban locations. States have different approaches to the legality of these machines.

Some states like Pennsylvania and Nevada have legalized slots and VGTs at gas stations and convenience stores. Those in Nevada will even find slots at traditional grocery stores, giving customers a chance to play before checking out the fruits and vegetables or grabbing a gallon of milk.

Other states have taken the opposite approach, seeing gas station slots as illegal forms of gambling with operators and manufacturers looking to circumvent the law. Casino operators also see them as competitors who haven’t had to spend money on gaming licenses and follow other regulations. For example, these machines aren’t usually governed by gaming commissions.

In recent years, numerous states have taken action to seize and destroy these machines – sometimes at facilities that operate underground and feature these games exclusively. Law enforcement in Florida, California, Ohio, Michigan, Texas, and other states have conducted raids on underground gaming venues in recent years. Some officers say that the machines are even used to fund organized crime.

“It’s hidden in plain sight,” Los Angeles County sheriff’s detective Richard Velasqueztold theLos Angeles Timesof that city’s gambling houses operated by organized crime. “You don’t know that it’s there until you know that it’s there.

3 – The Appeal of Gas Station Slots

One main reason many players may be lured into playing gas station slot machines is the simple fact that they’re convenient. Players don’t have to travel to visit a more traditional casino and can simply pop in a few dollars to see if some winnings might come their way.

Some may also enjoy the camaraderie of playing the games and chit-chatting with others while sipping a cold drink. A casual gambler may get some thrill by seeing if they might land a few winning spins. It’s as simple as filling up the gas tank, grabbing a soda, perhaps a doughnut, and sliding a few dollars bills in the machine. Despite their tenuous legality, this has led these games to become extremely popular across the country.

In 2023, one state government official even apparently realized how appealing the machines were to customers and made use of them to publicize a state program. Missouri Treasurer Vivek Malek used the machines to advertise the state’s unclaimed property program.

This came at a  time when the machines’ legality was tied up in court and one legislator wasn’t happy that the state was making use of the machines. Scott Cupps, the Republican chairman of the House Subcommittee on Appropriations – General Administration, asked Malek to explain the move to the committee but he declined to appear.

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“If you are trying to hide something or you are not willing to talk about something funded with taxpayer dollars, openly and publicly, then that right there is the red flag that there’s something nefarious taking place,” Cupps told the Missouri Independent.

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This serves as an example of how these games can really bring some controversy and plenty of governmental scrutiny.

4 – Risks and Controversies

While some states and jurisdictions have embraced gas station slots, many law enforcement agencies and governmental bodies have worked to eradicate them. Casino gaming companies go through rigorous scrutiny and spend ample sums of money to retain a gaming license. These underground slot operators do not, although that doesn’t mean they wouldn't try in a more regulated environment.

For players, this also means that the games aren’t regulated, and thus, the slot manufacturers don’t follow laws and rules set up by state gaming commissions to protect players. For example, these games’ RTP (return to player) percentages aren’t available and players have no idea how often they pay out.

Gambling addiction is also a concern as there may not be safeguards in place to protect players. A player may easily become a “regular” at a certain convenience store just for the sole reason of playing these slot games. Underage gambling may also be a concern with gas stations having more lax enforcement standards when not answering to a state regulatory body. Some opponents also have concerns that the devices may “prey” on the elderly, who may be on fixed incomes and have limited funds to play such games. 

Over the last few years, more states have cracked down on these games, although many of these efforts appear to be more targeted toward facilities offering mostly slot games than gas stations and convenience stores.

Texas saw a major growth in eight-liner slots’ popularity in the 2000s, but law enforcement busted many of these underground gambling houses. The state supreme court ruled in 2022 that these games indeed violated the Texas constitution outlawing gambling. The “game rooms” are now less prevalent in the Lone Star State. However, these can still be found occasionally at gas stations in the state.

Other states continue the fight as well including in Florida. In 2023, officers closed the Rio Arcade in Port St. Lucie. Sheriff's deputies raided the Rio arcade and confiscated 100 gambling machines.

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“These games are all illegal," Sheriff Ken Mascara told CBS-12. "This place tends to prey on the elderly, who bring their social security check here and lose it all.”

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5 – Economic Impact and Business Model

While many of these games and facilities may skirt the law, some small business owners see them as necessary to their bottom line. They are an additional revenue stream for mom-and-pop convenience stores, helping to keep paychecks going to employees and providing needed funds to pay the bills.

For some gas station owners, they have become so popular that owners may even offer free snacks and drinks to regular players – a small-time version of the casino comp system. In Some legal jurisdictions, and even in some that aren’t, the games are actually owned and run by slot route operators who cut in the gas station owners on a share of the profits.

Supporters also argue that these machines benefit local jurisdictions in the form of tax revenue. Many of these business owners are simply looking to add some extra profits to help their business succeed, especially considering the recent financial crisis many faced during the COVID-19 pandemic.

6 – Player Experiences 

When it comes to players themselves, many don’t see playing gas station slots as much of a big deal. While no official statistics are available, a quick visit to many of these establishments will find plenty of people hoping to win a few bucks and engaging in what they see as harmless fun. There are a few general reasons players enjoy the games, including:

  • Entertainment

  • Low cost – no vacation getaway required

  • Convenience

  • Chatting with friends

  • Chance at some winnings

It’s important to note that while players occasionally win, there is no way of knowing how much the machines actually pay out unless they are in a legal jurisdiction and regulated. It’s also critical to note that operators and users do go to jail in some states as well. Operators can even face felony charges.

With slot play becoming more popular on YouTube, one slot fan has even documented his own play at a gas station. Between spins, you can even see the convenience store in the background in this legal jurisdiction.

7 – Comparing Casino and Gas Station Slots

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Today’s traditional video slots are high-tech devices with modern graphics and sound, such as the games we offer at Jackpot Party like Rising Fortunes, Huff N’ More Puff, and more. This could be in stark contrast to most gas station slot machines. Games in a convenience store are usually similar to video slots but much more basic without all the “bells and whistles” one might find in a traditional casino.

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Gas station slots may appear more like arcade games one might find in the 1980s. Some of these slot operators’ games may also occasionally be more akin to traditional computers with owners paying out cash winnings right from the cash register while other operators may also include payout in the form of prizes.

The games are often pretty cheap and easy to set up for operators. Look at one of the “eight-liners” that became very popular in Texas before a major crackdown.

Some facilities may only have a few slot-like games while other locations may house several games, although much fewer than what you’d find at a regular casino.

Most of these gas station gaming facilities would probably never be confused with traditional casinos (although those in a regulated environment are more likely to be like traditional slots). There are no high-end restaurants or the feel of a real casino – no table games, no live entertainment, no traditional slots, no poker room, no spa, and none of the other traditional things one might associate with a brick-and-mortar casino.

However, even some tribal and commercial gaming operators have realized just how popular it is for players to gamble while at a gas station and have worked to get in on the action. Some legitimate casino companies have opened their own gas stations in legalized casino states. These often feature a large store with an attached casino that features more slots, and more of a real casino feel that underground gaming venues might offer – including the additional bars and restaurants.

8 – Future of Gas Station Slot Machines

So what is to become of gas station slot machines in the coming years? That remains to be seen, but betting that these games will be allowed in a wide-open market seems like a bad wager. Various states across the U.S. are working to either make them illegal or see that they are removed from many convenience stores and other venues.

While some gas stations may still be able to fly under the radar, larger arcades that cater simply to gamblers have seen numerous raids and the long-term success of these operations seems unlikely. Even smaller gas stations have seen games confiscated. The long-term prospects of manufacturers are also in doubt. Some may no longer be willing to risk large financial investments in technology and distribution of the machines if they will only likely be confiscated or destroyed.

The legal process that often comes with manufacturing the machines and operating this form of gambling may become too burdensome as well. Possible criminal charges may also be a major deterrent to seeing the industry grow.

On the other hand, several states are embracing more gambling options as legislators grapple with major budget shortfalls. Legal gas station operators are now providing gaming revenue for several U.S. states and in Canada. Some of these also allow these types of games at charitable organizations as a way to support various community groups.

Some lower populated states allow for the use of gaming devices, possibly because there is just so much room between traditional casino gaming operators. Slots at gas stations and bars are an easy way to bring some revenue for the business and the state. Some form of legalization and regulation seems like the best option for gas station slot operators but will need government bodies to get on board.

9 – Frequently Asked Questions

What are gas station slot machines?

These are slot-like games that can often be found in gas stations, convenience stores, bars, and other venues. These are illegal in many states and may not be the same kinds of games as found in more traditional casinos in gambling houses.

Some states, such as Nevada and Pennsylvania, have regulated and legalized slots in gas stations and other locations. These may be more like the slots one might find at a brick-and-mortar casino in Las Vegas or in other gaming destinations.

Are gas station slots legal?

That depends on the state. They are illegal in many states and law enforcement have raided numerous operations in recent years. Facilities with only a few machines are sometimes overlooked but state governments have worked to minimize the number of games available, especially in those states looking to legalize more traditional casinos.

Some state governments and tribal gaming operations have embraced gas station casinos. These are often now larger facilities with mini-casinos inside and traditional slots. Other gas stations may have just a handful of legal machines on location.

What are the odds of winning?

It's not good according to many players, especially for underground games. These machines that are in unregulated markets don’t follow gaming laws that traditional casinos and online operators must follow. Players will have no idea about the RTP (return to player) on these machines and are simply hoping to get lucky to win some cash or a prize.

Where are these machines found?

These slot-like games have been all across the country. Some operators have even opened venues that host these games exclusively and are more like underground casinos. They certainly face an uncertain future.

10 – Conclusion

Gas station casinos can be found in regulated and unregulated environments. In recent years, many states have cracked down on illegal slot machines or enacted legislation making them illegal. However, some states regulate the games much like they would traditional casino gambling.

Many convenience store operators, already facing slim profit margins, see the games as a big part of their business and helping to pay bills, employees, and operate in general. Some players view them as a harmless form of entertainment with a chance of winning some money or prizes as well.

However, opponents argue that the games are unregulated and could promote problem gambling as well as underage gambling. The future of the games is definitely uncertain, considering the legal landscape these operators and manufacturers face.

Sean Chaffin
Sean Chaffin

Sean Chaffin is a longtime freelance writer, editor, and former high school journalism teacher. He has covered the poker and gaming industry for many years.