When local gaming room owners received a letter recently saying they may be in violation of Florida gaming laws, they didn’t hesitate to shut their doors. The possibility of fines or maybe even jail was a threat they chose not to risk.
We’re still looking for answers as to who complained and exactly what law they may have been violated.
Calls to the Florida Para Mutuel Gaming Commission were of little or no help. Bryan Barber, who we were referred to at the state office, said to speak with Charlotte County Sheriff Bill Prummell. The sheriff is on record as saying he was doing his duty after discovering some of, if not all, of the so-called casinos may be breaking the law.
The letter to business owners was in response to a complaint that they may be in violation of section 849.16, Florida Statutes. That statute covers the use of coin operated slot machines where money is paid out. Those machines are only legal on tribal lands in Florida.
The Daily Sun talked to owners and patrons of the closed establishments. Their reactions were what anyone might expect.
Business owners were surprised. They said after months of operation they could not understand why all of a sudden there was a problem.
Stephen Byer, whose family owns the Silver Creek Bingo hall in Englewood, said he supports various charities in the area and never for a moment thought he was violating any laws. He claimed deputies from the Charlotte County Sheriff’s Office patronized the facility and that even wives of deputies worked there.
A spokesperson for the CCSO said Sheriff Prummell had no idea of that being true.
It’s odd that another Englewood casino, which is just over the county line in Sarasota County, is still going full blast. Barber said he had no recollection of any other casinos of this type being shut down in Florida, but he added if there was any investigation of them he could not share that information.
The Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office said it had no plans or reason to take action against the gaming facilities.
Meanwhile, patrons were complaining about a source of entertainment they said they can no longer enjoy.
In a recent Daily Sun story, Stephanie Crabill and Gina Prince said they were “outraged” the casinos were closing.
“We’re one of the regulars since day one. It’s very clean, licensed, no alcohol is being served,” said Crabill. “You know everybody’s name.”
Prince told the Daily Sun that her 91-year-old mother, who has had shoulder replacement surgery and is limited in her activities, loves to play. “This is the only thing that brought a smile to her face.”
We should be clear, we are not advocating for gambling in Charlotte County or taking sides. Gambling can turn into a serious addiction.
A series of stories published in the Sun years ago lamented the incidents of families torn apart by a gambling addiction. Of household budgets torpedoed by wasteful wagering. The problem is a serious one.
What we’re saying is if Florida laws prohibit the kind of activities that were going on in Charlotte County arcades, then why is the law not being enforced all over the state? And, if the infractions were going on since the opening of the casinos, why did it take months for someone to notice and call the law?
Answers are difficult to come by.
But a handful of Charlotte County business people are looking for an explanation.