LARGO — The Sunoco station at 1403 Clearwater-Largo Road N has one by the door. The Metro Gas station at the corner of Missouri Avenue and East Bay Drive has one by the door, too. Just a mile away, the SuperAm convenience store on Seminole Boulevard has one by the cash register.
It's a game called "Jukebox Coin Pusher," and it's drawing the attention of local law enforcement agencies that think it's an illegal slot machine.
The Tampa man who designed the game disagrees, though, and he's prepared to challenge any police agency that declares it illegal.
"We're ready for this," said Andy Kline, 55, owner of Game Gallery Amusements and Rentals. "I've been waiting for a challenge."
Kline said he's leased out about 100 of his machines across the Tampa Bay area in the last year, but the Largo Police Department might be the first to call them gambling machines. Here's how they work:
A customer drops a quarter in and gets a credit 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 where those quarters fall onto a bottom level and push other quarters over a lip and into a bin, where they can be collected.
A Times reporter playing the Jukebox Coin Pusher at the Sunoco station Monday dropped in five quarters without winning, before a sixth quarter bounced four quarters out. A $20 bill sat tantalizingly close to the lip, buried in coins. It did not move.
The song selection is pre-programmed, so you can't know what song you're picking unless you've memorized the assigned numbers. The Sunoco station's machine played a 1980s-heavy selection Monday. Take My Breath Away, Berlin's 1986 hit (song no. 78) was followed by two 1988 tunes: Wild, Wild West, by The Escape Club (no. 79) and Cinderella's ballad Don't Know What You Got (Till It's Gone) (no. 66).
The machines are plain and have no label indicating where they come from. They all have stickers, however, that support their legality. "We consider this machine to be legal as we are selling a product which is .25 cents per credit per song," the stickers read. "At this point there is a FREE PROMOTION GAME OF SKILL that you can win cash or items placed inside."
Largo Sgt. John Trebino disagrees, although he cautions he hasn't actually seen the machines yet.
"That's a gambling machine," said Trebino. "Any time you have machines where you place a coin in the device and you have a potential to win money based on chance, that's a violation."
Trebino has seen machines like the Jukebox Coin Pusher, but without the music element. He called them "bulldozer machines," and said the only places he has seen them are in casinos or on cruise ships.
Kline said he specifically designed them to comply with Florida law. The difference between Kline's machine and slot machines, according to him and his attorney, is that skilled customers who know when to drop their quarters can fare better at Jukebox Coin Pusher.
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"A traditional coin pusher machine is akin to a slot machine, completely random," said Joshua Eggnatz, Kline's attorney. "There are skill elements involved with this machine."
Trebino said he will send letters to the three convenience stores warning them he will conduct a criminal investigation if they keep the machines, and he will forward his findings to the Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney's Office. It will be up to that office to decide whether to press charges, Trebino said. Breaking state law on illegal slot machines is a third-degree felony.
Kline has told his customers to keep the machines.
"We've studied the laws," he said. "We've been in the business long enough to know what's legal and what's not."
Will Hobson can be reached at (727) 445-4167 or email@example.com. To write a letter to the editor, go to tampabay.com/letters.