Reporting Gary Nelson
MIAMI (CBSMiami) – At a solid waste center in Miami Thursday heavy equipment went about the business of destroying illegal equipment – electronic gambling machines, or, as they’re known in South Florida, maquinitas.
Miami’s Chief of Police, Mayor and other officials made a show of demolishing the machines, then watching as they were dumped into garbage trucks to be hauled away.
Florida outlawed the electronic slots after multiple scandals that saw sham charities profit through wagering allowed by a loop hole in state law.
Miami police have anted up plenty of effort cracking down on the illegal slots.
Miami Mayor Tomas Regalado watched approvingly as the illicit gadgets were destroyed Thursday, even though he clashed with former police chief, Miguel Exposito, over Exposito’s aggressive enforcement efforts against the machines.
“I don’t think there is hypocrisy,” Regalado told CBS4′s Gary Nelson.
The mayor said he asked the prior chief to tone things down after receiving complaints from business owners who said their machines were being operated purely for amusement and felt they were being harassed.
Now that Florida has outlawed all of the machines – whether used for gambling or not – the mayor says he’s all in.
“We support the Miami Police Department and we support the state law,” Regalado said.
The electronic slots cost Florida’s Lt. Governor Jennifer Carroll her job. She resigned amid a statewide organized crime bust in March that revealed she had business ties to the alleged organized crooks – operators of so-called internet casinos.
While the machines are now illegal, it doesn’t mean there aren’t those still breaking the law.
“For the last two weeks, we have been conducting undercover operations, going to different establishments,” said Police Chief Manuel Arosa. Arosa released undercover video showing a cop in plain clothes playing a machine, hitting a winner, grabbing a payoff ticket at the deli counter, and then collecting his winnings from the convenience store “croupier” – the clerk at the counter.
Why should we care if folks want to gamble at the corner cafe?
“Some call it a game, but really they are a cancer, and they go to the root of our quality of life,” Miami Commissioner Frank Carollo said of the maquinitas.
Carollo said nickel and dime gambling machines have a way of attracting higher stakes crime that can cost taxpayers and victims a jackpot in losses and the cost of enforcement.
Chief Arosa said the convenience of gambling at the corner store also increases the odds of gambling addiction in the community.
“Some people can gamble and walk away,” the chief said. “Others are going to leave their entire paycheck there.”