The Miami Dade State Attorney’s office has advised Hialeah that video gaming machines in the city are illegal only if city authorities can prove – through police investigations – that the machines pay out prizes to users.
“We advised them that the slot machines, per se, are not illegal unless there is some type of award for gambling with them,” said Teresa Chávez, spokesperson for the attorney’s office. “It would require an undercover police job to make an arrest for possession of the slot machines.”
Hialeah Police had contacted the state attorney’s office in July to ask for a ruling on the legality of the slot machines.
However, State Rep. Carlos Trujillo, R-Miami, said a state law passed in April clearly establishes that the slot machines,Slot machines, which generally operate at stores, restaurants and small businesses, are illegal.
“I am surprised at all of this,” said Trujillo, who sponsored the law banning slot machines. “The City of Hialeah is declaring a free zone exempted from complying with Florida laws.”
The state law, known as HB155, establishes that slot machines are illegal and included several rulings against popular video games, Trujillo said. The proposal was in response to a three-year investigation of illegal gambling at cyber cafes affiliated with Allied Veterans of the World, a charity organization based in St. Augustine.
According to the state investigation, Allied Vets and its affiliates raised $300 million, but only $6 million went to charities. The case prompted the resignation of then-Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll, who worked as a consultant for Allied Vets.
. Slot machine operators opposed the state legislation. City records show that until May there were 2,269 slot machines operating in Hialeah, generating some $1.2 million in revenue annually.
Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Giménez said that he will continue to oppose slot machines in the county because he considers them harmful to the community.
“I have always been against slot machines because it is an industry that takes advantage of poorer people,” Giménez said. “Before, some used to say that there was a gray area that slot-machine operators took advantage of, but that was clarified with the new law.”
Miami-Dade Police will continue to enforce the state law, he said. In June, Jesús and Odalys Abreu, two slot-machine operators and active contributors to political campaigns, were arrested.
Trujillo said he asked the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to investigate whether Hialeah broke the law by allowing the operation of slot machines.
“They’re investigating the reason why Hialeah is not complying with the new law,” Trujillo said.
But the FDLE said Monday it was not investigating Hialeah slot machines.
Miami Herald reporter Joey Flechas contributed to this story.