Miami cracking down on video gambling machines

Miami city attorney suggests selling maquinitas

MIAMI - The Miami city commission wants to crack down on video gambling machines found in many Little Havana cafeterias and Flagler Street adult arcades.

During a meeting Thursday, the commission passed a resolution declaring the machines, commonly called maquinitas, "illegal under state law and they're illegal under our code because they don't have a BTR (business tax receipt)."

"The objective is to get the administration to act," said Commissioner Francis Suarez. "As a commissioner and as a commission, you only have so much authority and the authority that we vested was to direct the manager to do his job and for the officers to do their job and confiscate these machines. We can't actually physically grab them and forced them to do it."

In 2010, Mayor Tomas Regalado championed an ordinance that required owners to pay a $500 licensing fee per device for a business tax receipt to keep them. Police confiscated hundreds of them.

No owner secured a BTR.

"We have a city-owned warehouse full of machines," said Miami Police Chief Manuel Orosa. "We can't burn them. We're thinking of throwing them in some dump and running them over with a bulldozer."

The city attorney suggested selling the machines. The city manager has 30 days to come up with a plan addressing storage and disposal of about 1,000 machines operating across the city.

The move comes after the Florida House on Friday voted overwhelmingly to approve a ban on internet cafes, and the Senate is expected to follow soon and send a bill to Gov. Rick Scott.

Rep. Jim Waldman, D-Coconut Creek, criticized the bill because it would put out of business adult arcades that are used heavily by senior citizens. Adult arcades, prevalent in South Florida, offer gift cards to winning players. Arcade owners have maintained that they offer games that require a skill and therefore don't qualify as gambling.

"What you are doing is harming the state of Florida; you are harming the seniors," Waldman said.

But Rep. Carlos Trujillo, R-Miami and sponsor of the ban, maintained that the adult arcades are engaged in gambling as well because the games offered rely on chance. He also noted that the adult arcades offer the equivalent of cash.

John Troconis, the manage at Tropical Arcade in Hialeah, said patrons don't win money but instead receive credits they can exchange for prizes and gift cards.

Rep. Elaine Schwartz, D-Hollywood, questioned the move to ban the storefront operations instead of trying to regulate them.

"Seriously, why jump from saying something is bad and make it a crime when it actually is fine but should just be regulated," said Schwartz.

"I think it's really, really bad that they want to take our 'Penny Annie' because that's what we call it," said Elise Buckley.

Legislators have considered bills the past two years to ban the internet cafes, but they stalled amid debates over whether to outlaw or regulate the operations.

The Legislature is feeling pressure to act in the wake of an investigation into the Allied Veterans of the World charity. It was accused of running a $290 million illegal gambling business that directed most of the proceeds into its owners' pockets. Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll, who has not been accused of any wrongdoing, resigned last week after she was questioned about consulting work she did for Allied.

Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, predicts the bill will be sent to Gov. Rick Scott before the session ends in early May. The bill goes before the Senate Rules Committee on April 2.

Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press contributed to this report. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.