Across Miami, all video-gaming machines — more popularly known as “ maquinitas’’ in the Little Havana cafeterias and Flagler Street video arcades where most are installed — are illegal, now say the mayor and a top city official.
The reason for the change of heart: A controversial October 2010 bill championed by Mayor Tomas Regalado that required owners of an “amusement game or machine” to pay $500 a year for a license called a “business tax receipt.”
In the 2½ years since the ordinance was adopted, not a single machine owner has purchased the license, for what are believed to be hundreds if not thousands of the devices, administrators say.
“Every one of those machines is illegal,” said Noel Chavez, the city’s occupational license supervisor.
“That’s what I think,” agreed the mayor, whose support for the video-gaming industry caused so much friction between himself and Police Chief Miguel Exposito that it led to the chief’s ouster.
The issue came to light this week as bills rocket through the state legislature that would outlaw video gaming machines at Internet cafes and adult arcades throughout the state. The measures would apply to the type of machines sprinkled around Miami and Hialeah, legislators say.
The argument over the machines turns on the question of whether they are games of chance or skill. Florida law — outside of specified pari-mutuels — broadly forbids gambling, outlawing machines with “any element of chance.’’ The state law says it is “the duty’’ of law enforcement to “seize and take possession’’ of gambling machines.
But maquinita owners have sought to exploit an exception in the law that allows amusement games of skill, like video games at arcades, which can pay small prizes.
In the past week, the state Senate and House have proposed matching bills that would make the video-gaming machines illegal.
Controversy about the gaming machines led to the resignation of Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll last week. She resigned under pressure after state investigators questioned her about consulting with Allied Veterans of the World, a charity involved in an alleged illegal gambling operation. An investigation into Allied Veterans led to 57 arrests.
Locally, the lucrative machines are popular in Miami and Hialeah, and some of the profits they generate wind up in campaign coffers.
Records show that during Regalado’s 2009 mayoral campaign, he received at least $14,000 in contributions from video-gaming industry leaders, their businesses and relatives. Former Hialeah Mayor Julio Robaina, during his failed 2011 bid for county mayor, received more than $20,000 from the industry, records show.
Hialeah Mayor Carlos Hernandez collected just over $15,000 in contributions from industry leaders and the restaurants and businesses where their machines are licensed, during his 2011 victory.
Regalado argued for Miami’s ordinance, which is modeled on Hialeah’s law, maintaining that it would allow code and law officers to know the location of every machine. Moreover, the special license would generate as much as $750,000 at a time when the city was going through a debilitating economic downturn.
But Miami hasn’t collected a cent. None of the machines have been licensed, and the city apparently has not written any tickets enforcing the law.