A week after Miami’s mayor called the video-gaming machines he once championed “illegal,’’ city commissioners directed the administration to arrange the seizure of the 1,000 or so machines scattered across cafeterias and video arcades.
Commissioners, riding an anti-gaming wave flowing through the state legislature — which is set on making the machines illegal — said the devices are out of compliance because not a single operating permit mandated by a 2010 city ordinance has been purchased.
The elected body unanimously told City Manager Johnny Martinez to seize the machines, and urged state legislators to finally declare them illegal.
“I don’t think you can make an argument; they either have a [permit], or they don’t,’’ said Commissioner Francis Suarez, who sponsored the resolution.
Martinez said he will direct police, not code enforcement officers, to confiscate the machines because some of the seizures are likely to be accompanied by arrests. He could not provide a timetable.
“There are ongoing things that I can’t go into detail about,” Martinez told The Miami Herald, suggesting undercover police are continuing to play the machines to gather evidence for criminal gambling charges. “Also, code enforcement can’t break down doors and trample in there. We want to confiscate and there may be legal proceedings.”
Michael Wolf, an attorney who represents the video gaming industry, insisted the machines are not used for gambling, but acknowledged that the police can seize the devices if they believe they have probable cause.
“These things will get decided in court,’’ said Wolf. “Of course, all this could be moot in a week depending on what happens in Tallahassee.’’
Controversy over the popular video-gaming machines, known as “maquinitas’’ throughout Little Havana, Flagami and Hialeah, first arose in 2010 and 2011 when Mayor Tomás Regalado and Police Chief Miguel Exposito engaged in public warfare over whether the devices — the subject of murky and conflicting laws — were legal.
At Thursday’s commission meeting, Suarez called the machines “destructive,” said they entice the most vulnerable in society, and said they are linked to prostitution and organized crime.
“It’s a plague on our state, on our city,” said Suarez, who is challenging Regalado for the job of mayor in November.
The machines made headlines again two weeks ago when Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll resigned under pressure after state investigators questioned her about consulting work she did for a charity involved in an alleged illegal gambling operation. Law officers have made 57 arrests in that case.
At the same time, the state House and Senate have matching bills rocketing through both chambers in Tallahassee that would make the video-gaming machines illegal.
In October 2010, Regalado pushed through an ordinance that passed 4-1 mandating a $500 machine permit. The goal was to identify where the machines were operating and to prop up city coffers. But Exposito confiscated hundreds of the devices and arrested their operators; his offensive put him at odds with the mayor and city manager and ultimately cost him his job.
Last week, Regalado and the city’s occupational license supervisor, Noel Chavez, revealed that not a single permit had been sold in 2½ years, making the machines “illegal.’’