Florida Sting Operation Uncovers Illegal Casinos
A sting operation in Northwest Florida this weekend found three defunct former businesses had been converted into illicit casinos. No arrests have yet been made, but it is expected that some will follow..
Shuttered Businesses House Underground Gambling
The makeshift casinos, which housed over 100 slot machines and various other electronic gambling devices, were found in Escambia County, Florida this past Saturday. Prior to the search and seizure, these establishments had been a provider of medical supplies, a Tax Max, and a bar/hookah lounge called Oasis, and witnesses estimate they had been operating for about a month.
The search began last Thursday, with a raid at Oasis, ending with several dozen gambling machines being confiscated. According to Florida’s WEAR ABC 3, multiple county agencies are pursuing the investigation.
Ed Weihenmayer, a neighbor to one of the illegal casinos, described the set up:
“It looked like a casino, there were slot machines all around the exterior walls, someone at the front. It was really dark, you couldn’t see very well in there except unless if you were right in front of a machine.”
Arrests Likely to Follow, But First: Some Questions
As described by Assistant State Attorney John Molchan, who has been on the case, the question of who was running the ring is only the beginning.
“We’re looking at the gambling equipment itself, trying to figure out where that’s coming from, where the money and the proceeds are going and coming from. How did this start up? Who funded this?”– John Molchan, Assistant State Attorney
Though these three operations have been located and halted, Molchan has stated the investigation is ongoing, with the exact scale to be determined. He has refused to comment on whether or not authorities believe the three operations to be run by the same individual or organization.
Once these questions are answered, the suspects could be charged with running an illegal gambling operation and racketeering.
Florida’s Other Run-Ins with Illegal Gambling
In the US, different states have different laws restricting or permitting gambling, particularly in the context of formalized casinos.
In Florida, there are 7 legal casinos owned by Native American Seminole communities. Gambling in the context of the lottery, bingo, jai alai, and horse racing is also allowed in the state. However, gambling on the devices found at the sting such as slot machines are illegal outside of licensed casinos that are located on Native American land.
Illegal gambling in Florida has been known to occur in internet cafes, though more often in other parts of the state: Daytona Beach, Riviera Beach and Miami have had run-ins with illegal online gambling or ownership of slot machines.
Some computers with illegal access to internet gambling were found at the former Oasis Bar and Hookah Lounge last Thursday.