October 21, 2007

Authorities Raid Sweepstakes Arcades in Pensacola

On October 4, 2007 this year, four sweepstakes arcades, including two in Pensacola were raided by a joint law enforcement task force including officials from the First Judicial Circuit Office of the State Attorney. The probable cause stated in the search warrant alleged that illegal gambling was occurring at these four locations. I am represent one of the facilities. The government seized almost everything at these locations: computers, paperwork and machines which, on the surface, appeared to look and feel much like slot machines.
This brief article deals very basically with what differentiates a gaming device from a sweepstakes or legal video arcade game. Florida Statue Sections 849.15(2) makes it unlawful to possess or to permit the operation of any slot machine or device or any part thereof. It is also unlawful for any person to permit to be placed or maintained in any building or place owned, leased, or occupied by him or under his management or control, any slot machine or device or any part thereof . But what differentiates a prohibited slot machine from a legal sweepstakes machine or video arcade game? A slot machine is considered a prohibited device if it is adapted for use in such a way that as a result of the insertion of any piece of money, coin, or other object, such machine or device is caused to operate or may be operated, and if the user, by reason of any element of chance or of other outcome of such operation unpredictable by him or her. It is the element of chance, or, put another way, whether the machine has an infinite number of opportunities to win a prize that converts an otherwise lawful arcade device into a gambling device. Therefore, if a machine, like a sweepstakes, only has a finite number of opportunities to win a prize, it is not a game of chance - the person playing the game knows that the machine will allow only allow a limited number of winners. If you were to look on the back of a sweepstakes card you might pick up from McDonalds, Publisher’s Clearing House or Burger King, it would tell you how many opportunities (prizes) there are to win. There is a finite number of winners and therefore not a game of chance. Furthermore, to enter the sweepstakes or, as in the case of the sweepstakes arcade facilities raided, a person did not have to purchase anything.
Under Florida law in order for a game to be considered gambling, like the slot machines in Biloxi or the horse races at the Pensacola Dog track, there must be an infinite number of opportunities to win. Law enforcement authorities are currently investigating whether the machines at issue seized during this multi-county raid are finite machines or whether they operated with an infinite number of opportunities to win.