LARGO — Last year, a new game called "Jukebox Coin Pusher" started appearing in convenience stores around Largo and other local cities.
The machines attracted the attention of law enforcement agencies. Largo police believed the devices were illegal slot machines and sent warning letters to stores in the city, prompting some stores to get rid of them.
Then the Tampa man who distributes the game took the fight to court. He has since won a round with Largo and is now taking on the state of Florida.
"The machines are back in the same stores in Largo," said Andy Kline, owner of Game Gallery Amusements and Rentals. "There were about five stores they got pulled out of."
Kline sued Largo police and a number of other government agencies, including the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation, which said Jukebox Coin Pusher was illegal.
Largo filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit, but a judge rejected the motion. Now Largo has withdrawn from the case and agreed not to send any more warning letters to stores until the courts rule on the machines' legality, according to a settlement filed in Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Court.
"All we did was send out letters saying we believed they could be illegal," said Largo police Lt. Stephen Slaughter. "We are no longer part of it. This is more of a state issue than a local municipal issue. I think the clarity of the law is somewhat in question."
Kline's lawsuit against the state is working its way through the courts.
Jukebox Coin Pusher machines are filled with quarters, with some dollar bills (occasionally a $20) buried in their midst. A customer drops a quarter in to play a song. The quarter falls onto a moving metal shelf covered in other quarters. If that customer is lucky (or, if you ask Kline, skilled), the quarter bumps other quarters off the shelf, starting a domino effect in which those quarters fall onto a bottom level and push other quarters over a lip and into a bin, where they can be collected.
Kline says it's a game of skill and that while there are illegal coin pusher machines out there, he designed his to comply with Florida law.
"This isn't a gambling machine. The customer is purchasing music," said Joshua Eggnatz, Kline's attorney. "There is a game promotion given to the consumer. It's no different than when you purchase fries at McDonald's and you get a free entry into a sweepstakes."
Kline says he's leasing the machines throughout the Tampa Bay area. He's a leasing agent for the machines' owner, Apollon Global Technologies of New York.
The devices are all over Largo — at the Sunoco station at 1403 Clearwater-Largo Road N, the Metro gas station at East Bay Drive and Missouri Avenue, and a SuperAm convenience store on Seminole Boulevard.
When Largo police started sending out letters, at least one convenience store owner decided he wanted no part of the fight. Breaking state law on illegal slot machines is a third-degree felony.
The owner of Mac's Mini Mart on Clearwater-Largo Road wrote to Largo's police chief, saying his store would no longer lease the machine. "I gave the owner (Kline) until 10/15/2012 to take his machine out of my business or I will throw it in the Dumpster," Abdeslam Rahmouni wrote.
But these days, Mac's Mini Mart has a Jukebox Coin Pusher once again.
Mike Brassfield can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 445-4151. To write a letter to the editor, go to tampabay.com/letters.