Florida Begins Unlicensed Slot Machine Crackdown Following Bill Enactment

Law enforcement in Florida wasted little time in initiating its crackdown on suspected illegal slot machines after Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) last week signed legislation allowing seized machines and associated money to become state property.

Once a gas station and convenience store, law enforcement alleges this business posing as a coffee shop has been operating illegal gambling machines. The Florida Gaming Control Commission continues to carry out raids of suspected unlawful gambling dens. (Image: Florida Gaming Control Commission)

DeSantis signed House Bill 5203 which allows cash “and other things of value” like gaming machines seized by law enforcement to be retained and sold by the state. Since the governor signed the statute into law, the Florida Gaming Control Commission’s Division of Gaming Enforcement has carried out several raids of businesses advertised as arcades and amusement centers that state officials allege are running illegal gambling operations.

The FGCC, assisted by the Florida Highway Patrol and county sheriffs’ offices in Hamilton and Jefferson, recently executed two search warrants at businesses suspected of housing illegal slot devices. The gaming agency yesterday reported that it confiscated 179 illegal gaming machines and arrested five individuals.

The raids were conducted at a business called the Coff33 Café located in White Springs and the Rio Arcade in Port St. Lucie.

BREAKING: Gaming Control Commission Special Agents, @FLHSMV’s Rapid Response Team, JCSO, and HCSO make arrests, shut down illegal gambling houses, and seize 179 suspected illegal gambling devices! #FLGaming #LawAndOrder pic.twitter.com/hq0TkBF9oi

— Florida Gaming Control Commission (@FLGamingControl) April 10, 2024

Arcades on Alert

Florida is littered with retail stores advertising arcade games, but many of the businesses allow customers to gamble for a chance at winning cash or vouchers that can be used as store credit.

Legal slot machines in Florida are limited to casinos operated by the Seminole Tribe and pari-mutuel facilities in Miami-Dade and Broward counties. Florida law enforcement officials say arcades, in addition to violating the state’s gambling laws, often attract unsavory characters.

“Oftentimes, these types of locations attract secondary crimes that can be detrimental to communities,” an FGCC spokesperson told ABC27 in Tallahassee. “They have a really negative effect on communities.”

A man was murdered recently outside the Rio Arcade. The secondary criminal activity is an added reason for law enforcement to take action on suspected illegal gambling dens.

The FGCC strictly governs slot machine regulation in Florida,” the agency tweeted on X this week. “They are legal only in the eight pari-mutuel facilities in Miami-Dade and Broward counties and at six facilities run by the Seminole Tribe of Florida.”

Many of the arcades use names and brands associated with Las Vegas.

Along with the Rio Arcade using the name of the Rio Las Vegas, there’s a Caesars Arcade in St. Petersburg that uses the iconic Caesars Palace logo on the retail strip mall’s exterior. There’s also a Treasure Island Arcade in Lake Worth Beach and a Tropicana Arcade in Port St. Lucie.

Illegal Gambling Penalty Increases 

Along with passing a law to allow Florida to retain seized illegal gambling machines and associated financial assets, state lawmakers are mulling a bill that would elevate penalties for persons found guilty of operating unlawful gambling enterprises. In February, the state Senate passed a bill that would increase illegal gambling penalties from a second-degree misdemeanor to a third-degree felony.

Senate Bill 1046 is currently being considered in the state House of Representatives. If the bill is passed and signed by DeSantis, repeat offenders would face a second-degree felony on the second offense and a first-degree felony on subsequent charges.

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