By David Irvin: CNJ staff writer
Clovis’ John A. Mesner wants the state to return the slot machines they confiscated from his home.
The state said he’s not entitled to them, even in light of a recent state Court of Appeals legalizing the ownership of private slot machines in New Mexico.
“He’s not going to get them,” said Angela Lucero, staff counsel at the New Mexico Gaming Control Board. She said the court ruling doesn’t apply to Mesner, because he was attempting to sell one of the machines without a license, which is a fourth-degree felony, she said.
But Mesner, 60, argues that if the court has declared it legal to own non-gambling slots, that standard should also apply to sales.
“It’s not a gambling device to own it, how can it be a gambling device to sell it?” he said.
The state ruling comes 10 months after undercover agents from the New Mexico Gaming Control Board confiscated five slot machines from Mesner’s home. The agents were responding to a classified advertisement placed by Mesner.
Charged with six felony counts in connection with the incident the Clovis man is out over $4,500 in lawyers fees, probation costs and bail to get out of jail. All charges were later dismissed without prejudice when he entered a pre-prosecution diversion program and cooperated with authorities.
Five of the counts were for possession and one was for attempting to sell without a license, court records show. But officials maintained Friday he isn’t re-entitled to the machines, even considering the possession counts.
“Just because the Court of Appeal says it’s not illegal now, doesn’t mean it wasn’t illegal at the time we charged him,” said Assistant District Attorney Jennifer Burrill, adding that the court of appeal isn’t the final word anyway. The decision could possibly be appealed to a higher court.
The appeals ruling was based on a 1999 seizure of 10 privately held slot machines taken from an Alamogordo home. The state Court of Appeals reasoned that if there is no illegal gambling going on it is not illegal for private citizens to own slot machines in their homes. Under New Mexico law, it is not a “game” if the machine operator isn’t profiting from the operation of the slots.
Mesner said his machines only took tokens.
Besides the financial toll this episode has taken, Mesner said the stress of getting thrown in jail and dealing with the felony charges has impacted his life. Before the felony possession of slot machines, Mesner’s criminal record was clear in the state of New Mexico, according to court documents.
“They handcuffed me and took me to jail in front of my grandson,” said Mesner, who said he only buys the Japanese-style machines as collectors items. When arrested, he was attempting to sell the one machine to pay for another, he freely admits.
Officials at the state board said the machines will be destroyed.
Since 1998, the state gaming board has confiscated and destroyed more than 2,000 gaming machines and components, officials say.
“Not knowing (it was illegal), I guess that was my mistake, but I’m not going to say it’s a mistake,” he said Friday.
Mesner said he did extensive research and couldn’t find any law prohibiting owning them before purchasing them on Ebay.
However, when Gaming Control Board agents saw the listing for the machines in the classifieds in September, they showed up in Clovis posing as potential buyers. That’s when Mesner lost his slots and went to jail.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.