November, 01, 2014 - Florida has a new law prohibiting maquinitas, otherwise known as video gambling machines. The new law, signed by Governor Rick Scott on April 10, 2013, prompted Miami mayor Thomas Regalado to order the dramatic crushing of 48 machines with bulldozers on April 18th. The bulldozing was a spectacular, televised event which Regalado said served as a visual demonstration that Miami is ready and willing to comply with Florida's new law. On the same day of the bulldozing, officials raided other Florida locations and seized other maquinitas, according to Miami Police Chief Manuel Orosa. Arrests were made and the machines were carted away, some of them with money still inside.
Governor Scott's Maquinita Ban
Governor Scott did not outlaw the slot machines found in casinos; Florida's 137 state-sanctioned casinos are still allowed to operate slots. He banned maquinitas, electronic gambling devices that, up until April 10th, had been used by nonprofit organizations, arcades, amusement centers, and Internet cafes in Florida.
The controversial machines came under scrutiny after 57 arrests were made in connection with a scandal involving Allied Veterans of the World, a phony charity that supposedly served U.S. veterans.
Arrests Caught Some Vendors by Surprise
Business owner Ayman Jadallah said he had no idea maquinitas had been outlawed when authorities invaded his small grocery store and confiscated his lone machine. Jadallah surrendered the machine willingly, saying it wasn't worth the fight to try to save it. Police allowed Jadallah to avoid jail time by having him sign a document promising to appear in court at a later date.
The maquinita in Jadallah's store was not the typical types of slot machines found in a casino. They were so-called "skill" machines in which players deposit money for a chance to mechanically finagle quarters through a slot onto a tray. Similar games are often found at arcades, children's restaurants, and carnivals.
Five others business owners were confronted by Miami police the same day. Each was accused of harboring illegal gambling machinery in a place of business. The maquinitas in question were discovered at several gas stations, a Laundromat, and a cafeteria.
Some Florida Arcade Proprietors Feel They Were Unfairly Targeted
A lawsuit has been filed by the Florida Arcade Association. The suit, led in part by owners of the Boardwalk Brothers Inc. arcade in Tamarac and the Play It Again, Florida arcade in Davie, claims that the businesses were unduly punished by Scott's new law. The suit calls the Florida governor's ruling "irrational" and "vague" and asks for the ban to be reversed so the businesses can survive.
Unfortunately for these arcade businesses, they were all immediately closed down due to Scott's ruling. The Florida Arcade Association has hired constitutional lawyer Bruce Rogow to defend their case. The plaintiffs are hopeful, but skeptics have expressed doubt that the governor's ruling can be overturned. In the event that the arcades aren't able to reverse the ban, there is still the hope that the arcade owners may be able to save their businesses by reconfiguring their machines to suit the specifics of Scott's new law.
Mayor Regalado's Puzzling Change of Heart
Interestingly, the mayor who made such a big deal of bulldozing the maquinitas on television once worked hard to safeguard their legality. Regalado, a Cuban immigrant and former journalist, actually fought against police chief Manuel Exposito on the issue when Regalado was first elected in 2009. Their conflict: the police chief felt the machines were against the law, while the mayor maintained that they were legal.
In 2010, Regalado decided to charge maquinita operators a yearly permit fee of $500. He argued that this move would help pad the city budget and also allow local government to track the location of maquinitas in town. In 2011, police chief Exposito left his job because of his intense and uncomfortable conflict with Regalado. Now, two years later, Regalado seems to have made a political about-face as he champions the maquinita's demise. This abrupt change in attitude has raised questions in the minds of some Miami citizens and politicians.
Suspicious Campaign Contributions
Regalado admits to collecting about $15,000 in campaign contributions from the maquinita industry during his 2009 election campaign. He insists, however, that the money has nothing to do with his change of heart, stating that he accepted funding from many different sources during his campaign. Still, critics point their fingers at this previous exchange of money as a possible reason for the public bulldozing.
City Commissioner Francis Suarez Accuses Regalado of Hypocrisy
Francis Suarez, a Miami city commissioner who plans to run against Regalado in the November 2013 mayoral election, immediately threw Regalado's public actions back in his face, calling the televised bulldozer display "hypocritical" and "opportunistic." Regalado responded by saying that Suarez has always been an opponent of maquinitas and therefore has nothing to complain about.
Criticism of Governor Scott
Critics say that Scott's new maquinita law goes overboard, that he reacted harshly to the Allied Veterans of the World scandal by making a sweeping and abrupt new ruling that unfairly ruined innocent arcade businesses. One of Scott's platforms as governor has been to create jobs for Floridians, but this new law effectively cuts approximately 14,000 jobs, according to some critics.
Ironically, an April 19 post on Governor Scott's web page announced the addition of 14,000 new jobs to the Orlando area. Supporters of Scott might say his efforts helped create positive economic growth in the area, but critics of his maquinita law might say that Florida's employment rate has simply broken even.
Scott is a Republican. Since his election to governorship in 2011, some of his major reforms have included requiring welfare recipients to take drug screening tests and rejecting the development of a high-speed rail between Orlando and Tampa.