LARGO — In June, the man behind the "Jukebox Coin Pusher" machines that Largo police declared illegal said he was ready for a fight.
In July, Andy Kline backed up his words and sued a state agency that also called his invention an illegal slot machine. In the meantime, though, at least one Largo convenience store owner has decided he wants no part of this fight.
Largo police Chief John Carroll updated his peers on the Pinellas Police Standards Council about the Jukebox Coin Pusher saga at the council's meeting last Wednesday.
The machines started appearing at convenience stores in Largo earlier this year. Game Gallery Amusements and Rentals, Kline's Tampa company, leases them across the region. Kline said in June he has leased about 100 across the area.
The machines are filled with quarters, with some dollar bills (occasionally a $20) buried in their midst. Customers pay 25 cents to play a song, and once you drop a quarter in, there's a chance it pushes money out of the machine. 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.
Carroll disagrees, though. And so does the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation. This summer, a department agent told a St. Petersburg convenience store owner the Jukebox Coin Pusher was illegal.
In July, Kline sued the department in Pinellas County court. "It's our position that law enforcement agencies are reading something into the statute that's not there," said Joshua Eggnatz, Kline's attorney.
While Eggnatz and Kline wage their court battle, the owner of Mac's Mini Mart in Largo has decided the money he makes off the machine is not worth the trouble. Abdeslam Rahmouni wrote a letter to Largo Chief Carroll on Sept. 27 telling Carroll his store would no longer lease the machine.
Rahmouni's letter arrived several days after Carroll got a letter from Eggnatz, threatening legal action if Largo police continued to tell stores that the coin pusher is illegal. Rahmouni told Carroll that Eggnatz didn't speak on his behalf. "My business is in the city of Largo and I am following the rules and regulations of the city," Rahmouni wrote. "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."
Eggnatz said Tuesday he understands why Rahmouni would feel that way, and he actually recommends other Largo stores get rid of the coin pusher until state court rules on their legality in his case.
At last Wednesday's meeting, Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney Bernie McCabe indicated reluctance to prosecute cases against stores that keep the coin pushers. He likened the machines to Internet "sweepstakes cafes," establishments that some law enforcement agencies have declared illegal gambling halls. Both fall into legal gray areas, McCabe said, that the Florida Legislature needs to clear up. "These are issues that are very difficult to deal with on a local level, because the few experts in that field are very expensive," McCabe said. "The state needs to take charge of this."
Will Hobson can be reached at (727) 445-4167 or firstname.lastname@example.org.