Skill games, gray machines or illegal slots.
Regardless of the name used, Florida authorities are sending a clear message that these devices are illegal. Port St. Lucie’s Rio Arcade became the latest to learn that lesson after sheriff’s deputies raided the facility earlier this month.
Authorities found more than 100 machines they deemed illegal.
Gray area is black and white to gaming regulators
There are seven licensed casinos operating in Florida. Six of them are operated by the Seminole Tribe of Florida. Florida online casinos are illegal, as are slot machines operated outside casinos or approved racinos.
These so-called “gray” machines are common in many US states, often at small businesses where they provide owners an additional source of foot traffic and revenue.
Since assuming regulatory powers last year, the newly formed Florida Gaming Control Commission (FGCC) has sought to turn a gray area into a black-and-white one. Commission officials say a game is a slot machine if it has any element of chance, even if there is skill involved. And all slot machines must be regulated and housed in a licensed casino or racino.
This has led to multiple raids across the state in the past year. Authorities have targeted illegal gambling businesses operating as arcades, internet cafes or other similar entities. Local police have even worked with the FGCC in these efforts.
There are slot machines deemed legal at some venues across the state, including at Florida’s Treasure Coast. Others, including the ones at Rio Arcade, are considered illegal by officials. In the Rio raid, Sheriff Ken Mascara said the arcade’s operation brought in between $30,000 and $60,000 a day.
Owner, manager and players all face charges
The raid resulted in 30 to 40 arrests, including the owner, manager and patrons. All active players were arrested for participating in illegal gambling activities, though Mascara told CBS News that the owner and manager would face the most severe charges.
“These games are all illegal.”
Mascara said places like Rio Arcade take advantage of older adults, many of whom come to gamble with their Social Security income.
“They’re greedy. That’s what it comes down to. Now, you would have to have your head under a rock not to know that this is illegal.”
Regulators have been ramping up crackdowns on illegal gambling
Attempts to take down businesses housing illegal gambling machines in Florida go back at least 10 years. The FGCC, however, has brought a renewed focus on regulating the state’s gambling industry, starting with targeting gray machines.
No part of the Sunshine State is immune from authorities raining on its illegal gambling parade, either. Last November, a northwest Florida internet cafe raid produced $9,000 in cash and multiple slot machines – standalone and internet-based.
More recently, a FGCC sting shut down four businesses with connections to one another. It seized over $1 million in cash, assets and machines from locations in Tampa, St. Petersburg, Delray Beach and St. Lucie County’s Fort Pierce.
St. Lucie County sits more than an hour from the closest regulated Seminole casino, creating ripe conditions for gray machines to thrive. Recent law enforcement efforts, though, are sending a new message, and some adult arcades have closed voluntarily.
Those not heeding the warning can expect a visit from Mascara said his deputies.
“All the arcades up and down US-1 have games of skill and are operating illegally. Once we get this one taken care of, we will move onto the next one.”