Florida Seniors Warned About Illegal Gambling
The Florida Gaming Control Commission (FGCC) has partnered with AARP, formerly the American Association of Retired Persons, to educate senior citizens about the illegality of the many pop-up gambling and slots venues in the Sunshine State.
Officials, encouraged by local regulated casino operators, have been battling the illegal venues for years.
However, in recent months, authorities have stepped up efforts to shut them down.
This new strategy aims at educating potentially vulnerable seniors, who may not understand state rules behind slot machines and land-based gambling venues.
Confusion may lay for some in the fact that slots and gambling are legal in Florida. But for the moment, at least, that’s only in tribal gaming casinos in select locations.
To aid in evading the law and to muddy the water for patrons, these operations often call themselves “arcades,” while offering a mix of legal games and illegal unlicensed gambling. They are often fly-by-night operations that can pop-up, disappear, and reopen at another venue in days.
“These illicit gaming centers may appear innocuous at first glance. But if they offer slot machines or conduct other unregulated gaming activity, they are breaking state law,” said the joint statement from AARP Florida and the FGCC.
It is not as if senior Florida residents don’t have legal options scattered throughout the state.
National operators have partnered with Florida’s tribes for years, and there are 15 legal slots venues available, including casinos from Harrah’s and local, tribe-owned Hard Rock.
Between them, they brought in $3.25 billion of revenue in 2022 and paid $1.56 billion in state taxes, according to American Gaming Association data.
“Every dollar wagered on illicit slot machines is revenue diverted from the Educational Enhancement Trust Fund,” said FGCC Executive Director Lou Trombetta.
The AARC and FGCC statement offers a helpful list for seniors to understand which venues are offering illegal slot machines.
It also says that “The FGCC is committed to shutting down illegal gambling facilities and pursuing criminal charges against their owners, not their patrons,” while noting that even playing unlicensed slot machines remains illegal.
This new educational program doesn’t mean law enforcement isn’t also on the case. Throughout the early months of 2023 and continuing into May, state police have been taking a hard-line approach to gambling venues.
Officials have raided dozens of operations across Florida in May alone. That included several raids on May 11 at sites in Delray Beach, Fort Pierce, and Tampa. Seven people were arrested and more than a million dollars in assets and cash were seized, as reported by WFLX.
Since then, more than 30 additional cease and desist letters have been posted to offending venues.
“About 33 leads have come in from Lee County, three in Charlotte, and two in Collier County,” Florida Gaming Control Board spokesman Eric Carr said.
“There could be criminal prosecution. There are also administrative and civil fines up to $10k per machine.”
The combination of public pressure and the raids have already forced several outlets to shutter, according to local news outlets.