Last week, the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office raided an internet cafe in Crestview. Law enforcement suspected an illegal gambling operation was taking place at the cafe.
Police arrested the owner of Lucky Pearl Internet Cafe after finding several slot machines inside.
Cafe owner faces two gambling-related charges
Florida law only permits slot machines at the six Florida casinos owned by the Seminole Tribe. Legislators gave a handful of racinos the ability to implement them as well. But the law prohibits internet cafes from operating those machines.
Earlier this year, the newly-formed Florida Gaming Control Commission said they would be cracking down on illegal gambling operations. As a result, law enforcement raided several illegal adult arcades over the last year.
Following last week’s raid, police took Lucky Pearl owner Zhou Lin into custody and brought him to Okaloosa County Jail. Authorities charged the 56-year-old with one count of keeping a gambling house and one count of possessing slot machines.
Investigation into Lucky Pearl began two years ago
The investigation into the cafe began two years ago, in November 2020. According to the arrest report, investigators obtained a search warrant for the Lucky Pearl a year later. During the raid, law enforcement found $9,000 in cash from Lin’s slot machines.
Lin’s gambling house in his Lucky Pearl Internet Cafe featured both internet slot machines as well as stand-alone gambling machines where people could win money. Police confiscated the machines when they took Lin into custody.
Slot machines do not exist in ‘gray’ area of law
The underground gambling market in Florida emerged and expanded over the last decade. Especially in areas like Okaloosa County where there are no nearby legal casinos.
Owners of these adult arcades operate gambling machines they say are not specifically illegal under Florida law. However, a judge deemed these “gray” machines illegal after a summary judgment in 2015. According to the court, these were no different than slot machines.
The city of Jacksonville specifically banned the machines in 2019. This measure passed a few years before the FGCC set its sights on illegal gambling at adult arcades.
One city council member championed an effort to reverse the law in Jacksonville earlier this year. That brought a swift rebuke from FGCC Executive Director Louis Trombetta in a letter to the Jacksonville City Council.
“Slot machines in Florida are generally illegal. And slot machine gambling is not specifically allowed in Duval County.”
While some would like these types of adult gaming arcades legalized, there is still significant pushback overall. Garrett Dennis, the Jacksonville city councilman pushing to legalize the machines, said he does not want to put his fellow councilors in the complex position of voting for illegal activity at the state level.
However, he said, “If we regulate, then we know where they are, and we know the consumer will be safe.”
State has long history of raiding suspected illegal arcades
Despite the FGCC’s recent push, Florida began cracking down on illegal gambling operations in 2013. Consequently, 60 businesses were investigated and found to possess these gambling machines after being raided.
At the time, authorities believed there was a $300 million racketeering and money-laundering scheme involving a charity known as Allied Veterans of the World. Investigators said the leaders of the charity were using it to fill their own pockets and there were no illusions when it came to them knowingly running a gambling outfit of that size.
Ultimately, authorities arrested and jailed nearly five dozen people. In the wake of the arrests, dozens of gaming centers were shut down.