A man went into a clothing shop and did a little “fishing.” Soon, police showed up, shut down an illegal gaming room and arrested a Marion County man. Authorities say a clothing store in Citra was a front for casino fish games.
The man who went “fishing” was a detective with the Marion County Sheriff’s Office. The gaming machines were fishing-style games that exist in a legal “gray” area in Florida. But not in Marion County, where local statutes prohibit all simulated gambling devices.
Ralph McNish, 46, operated a clothing store as a front for his gaming operation, authorities said. McNish faces 16 counts of violating an ordinance that bans the management, possession or use of simulated gambling devices for commercial purposes.
MCSO says it received complaints of an illegal internet cafe
On Facebook, the MCSO said it had received complaints recently about an illegal internet cafe operating in a small strip mall in Citra. There’s also a pizzeria and a cooking school on the property.
The MCSO sent out an undercover detective to the nondescript location at 17050 N. Highway 301, where he encountered a locked door. The detective knocked and rang the bell until McNish answered. McNish allegedly told the detective that he operated a clothing store.
Photos on Facebook show a few racks of T-shirts and polo shirts. There’s also some undershirts under a glass counter and a dozen or so baseball hats hanging on the wall.
The MCSO said the detective inquired about “playing some tables.” McNish led him to the back of the shop where 16 fishing-style casino games were located. The detective proceeded to play $40 in the fishing games, concluding that they constituted simulated gambling devices.
Fishing games have elements of chance and skill
The colorful arcade-style games found in the kids’ zone at pizzerias pumping out strips of tickets can also double as electronic casino games.
In a fishing game, a player uses a joystick and various buttons to cast nets and shoot hooks, lasers and other powered-up blasters at different types of fish to earn money. Different fish, different payout. Catch a guppy, win a penny. Catch a mako, win $2.50. Most fish games also employ a multiplayer aspect in that a single game screen has space for multiple players to catch the same fish.
Fishing games, like many electronic simulator games, exist in a legal gray area. In some states with prohibitive gaming laws, they’re permitted because they require skill. It takes proper timing, aim and teamwork to catch the fish. They’re also games of chance because the fish swimming across the screen are randomized.
Marion County’s laws do away with this gray area in that they prohibit all simulated gambling devices that “include the use of skill, the application of the element of chance, or both.”
MCSO: Illegal operation was not well disguised
Immediately after the detective left, MCSO deputies arrived to shut down the operation and detain McNish. MCSO said he refused to answer questions and he made no statement.
Due to the slipshod nature of the clothing store, the MCSO recognized it immediately as a front for the illegal gaming business in the back. Hand-written signs in the game room proved it. The signs read:
“Fish Table Promotion Tues & Thurs $10 Bonus on first $20, $40 minimum to redeem”
McNish was placed under arrest and held on $8,000 bond.
Some question police priorities
Some comments on the MCSO Facebook page indicate a distaste for the message being sent by authorities. Some Facebook commenters see the need to shut down places like this. However, many said busts like this are low on the community’s priority list when it comes to vice in Marion County.
One user complained about that very matter:
“Imagine being proud of this ‘police work’ to the point of posting it with the story. How about sending some undercover detectives to all these drug dens all over the county? Good lord …”
Another questioned the inconsistency in gaming statutes:
“So how is the lottery ticket machine any different than a fish machine? Both are machines that you use to gamble with? Buying a lottery ticket is a form of gambling?”