The mayor also collected about $15,000 in campaign contributions from industry insiders during his 2009 mayoral victory run.
But his former handpicked police chief, Miguel Exposito, never believed the machines were legal and continued to confiscate them and make arrests. The two men were at such odds that Exposito was finally forced out in the fall of 2011.
Since the ordinance went into effect in October 2010, not a single person in Miami bought a permit. Finally, three weeks ago — more than two years after the ordinance was created — Regalado conceded that because no permits had been purchased every machine in town was illegal. It was time, he and Police Chief Manuel Orosa said, to round them up and destroy them.
The change in attitude came just a few weeks after the state’s lieutenant governor, Jennifer Carroll, resigned from office while being investigated for consulting for a charity involved in illegal gambling machines. The investigation unearthed millions of dollars in campaign contributions from the video gaming industry to Tallahassee politicians, and proved a huge embarrassment in the state capitol. So far, 57 people have been arrested.
Lawmakers quickly reacted, creating a law making the machines illegal. Complicating events, owners of arcades for seniors in Tamarac and Davie filed a legal challenge to the new law this week, calling it “arbitrary, capricious and not rationally related to a legitimate government purpose.” The arcade owners say that because the new law does not define a crime, it should be overturned.
But the challenge wasn’t on the mind of Miami leaders Thursday, as cops swept the city and bulldozers crushed maquinitas. Regalado told onlookers that “this is a visual message that the city is serious indeed in following state law.”
His actions caught the attention of political foe Francis Suarez, a city commissioner who is running for mayor against Regalado in November. Seizing on the mayor’s moves as a perceived about-face, Suarez called the press gathering “a new brand of political opportunism.”
He concluded a blistering, seven paragraph statement by calling Regalado’s public event “a stunning display of hypocrisy and political opportunism.”
“Mayor Regalado is turning his back on the industry he has long defended and attempting to re-brand himself as an anti-maquinita crusader. Sorry, Mr. Mayor, you cannot break your ties to the gaming machine industry by smashing a maquinita for the cameras,” wrote Suarez.
Regalado was quick to note that Suarez voted in favor of the ordinance.
“So I don’t know why he’s saying that now,” said the mayor. “I did not champion maquinitas. I championed the ordinance.”