Illegal gambling machines are operating in the open.
An Action News Jax investigation reveals illegal gaming is happening in Northeast Florida despite a statewide crackdown, and most law enforcement agencies aren't doing anything about it.
Action News Jax reporter Kevin Clark went undercover during the last two months and found dozens of dubious machines and the owners who operate them.
The machines are outlawed in Florida, but still widespread across our area.
With few exceptions, Florida statute prohibits gambling, which it considers games of chance.
This includes slot machines and devices.
After the 2013 federal takedown of an illegal gambling ring run by Allied Veterans of the World, Florida lawmakers banned internet cafes.
But four years later, these cafes are back in strip malls in every part of Jacksonville. Slot machines have been stealthily placed in mini marts and grocery stores where we had no problem finding customers who were gambling.
Along with Action News Jax crime and safety expert and former Jacksonville Sheriff’s Officer Ken Jefferson, Clark tracked down the machines and confronted the staff.
Kevin Clark: "Do you guys make a lot of money off those machines? Are they popular?
Staff member: "No, not really."
Kevin: "I've seen someone playing every time I came in."
Staff member: "Yeah, they play, but it's not big money."
In stores from Main Street to Philips Highway, each clerk denied knowing anything about the machines or the law.
Kevin Clark: "Would your manager know anything about those machines being illegal?"
Najib Nakigl, employee: "I don't know about that, sir."
Kevin Clark: "If the department was to come in and check these machines out and they find out they're not legal, do you know that you'll be liable for them or the store owner?"
Najib Nakigl: "Yeah, they gave me a license for the machine."
He couldn't show us that license, and instead gave Clark a phone number for the machine's owner. But that man wouldn't tell Clark his name or company and then hung up.
Why are there still so many machines, despite state law? It may come down to manpower.
Jefferson said if Jacksonville Sheriff's Office officers went after every illegal gaming machine, it would be a drain on resources.
"It creates a hardship for law enforcement with the exception of receiving tips from either confidential informants or persons calling in," Jefferson said.
In Lake City, the crackdown only came because of crime. Three casino cafes were robbed within months of each other.
Now, locks and chains replace the bright flashing lights. The state forced 12 internet cafes to close.
"They told us that they were going to come in and arrest us and confiscate all of our equipment and close us down and take us to jail," said John Duchene, owner of Duchene's Bar and Grill.
In Jacksonville, we took a closer look at where these machines are, and found no obvious increase in crime.
So as one city cracks down on illegal gaming, the games play on in cities such as Jacksonville.
The Florida Division of Alcohol and Tobacco said it "consistently enforces Florida’s gambling prohibitions." When we asked for proof of that, the agency sent information about only two cases in the last three years.
Clark asked the Sheriff's Office how many people have been arrested for illegal gambling in Jacksonville in the last two years and is still waiting for that information.
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