Keith Connors

Weekdays 10a-3p

Tampa Bay’s illegal slot machines hiding in plain view. When I see arcade after arcade on the streets from Sarasota to Clearwater, I’m tempted to go in and play a little pinball, or maybe an old Pac Man game, aren’t you?  In Tampa Bay, illegal gambling arcades thrive despite the state’s ban on slot machines. These inconspicuous game rooms, tucked away in worn strip plazas and unmarked buildings, lure vulnerable individuals with the promise of quick winnings. The Tampa Bay Times recently explored this super sneaky, (right out here in the open) secretive world, shedding light on its prevalence, challenges in regulation, and the potential impact of Florida’s new Gaming Control Commission.

I feel like I need a cigarette, even though I don’t smoke. It all begins behind blacked-out windows, gamblers step into dimly lit parlors filled with glowing screens and captivating sounds. Each play costs a quarter, a dollar, or even $10, offering a thrilling and risky experience. When gamblers win, shouts of “Cash out!” echo through the room as attendants verify screens and distribute cash. But if you lose, ATMs are conveniently available, fueling desperation to continue playing.

How they do that? Slot machines are illegal in Tampa Bay, yet nearly 70 game rooms operate in the area. These establishments, often hidden and lacking official names, rely on word-of-mouth to attract customers, making them challenging to regulate.

Hopes for Change: The newly established Gaming Control Commission in Florida aims to crack down on illegal gambling arcades. Increased scrutiny from the media and law enforcement has already led some game rooms to shut down. However, past efforts to eradicate these establishments have proven unsuccessful.

Why do they do it? Game room owners reap substantial profits, with some earning $20,000 to $60,000 per month. These arcades thrive in lower-income neighborhoods, taking advantage of cheap rent and a community less likely to complain. The arcades specifically target those facing difficulties in life, enticing them with the chance to turn a small investment into a substantial sum. Unfortunately, once hooked, these individuals become trapped in a cycle of addiction. TBT