Florida seniors, beware of unregulated slot machines, AARP warns

At unregulated ‘arcade’ casinos that offer illegal gambling in Florida, mistreated customers have no way to fight back.
Outside the Action Arcade at 6541 54th Ave N on May 15 in St. Petersburg.
Outside the Action Arcade at 6541 54th Ave N on May 15 in St. Petersburg. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]
Published May 22|Updated May 23

Florida seniors should be wary of gambling in unregulated and illegal casinos often known as “arcades,” “game rooms” or “internet cafes.”

That’s according to AARP Florida, which partnered with the new Florida Gaming Control Commission on Monday to warn about these casinos’ dangers.

As the Tampa Bay Times reported last week, the businesses have become common throughout Florida. They pop up seemingly overnight, with dollar signs on window decals and promises of “arcade” games inside. Instead, customers find slot machines.

Slot machines are only legal on certain tribal lands and a handful of state-licensed gambling facilities in Miami-Dade and Broward counties. Yet dozens can be found throughout the Tampa Bay region. They’ve existed in different forms for decades, and have survived previous efforts by lawmakers to shut them down.

These “arcades” prey upon “vulnerable and aging adult populations,” the AARP said in a news release, noting that the establishments are especially common around communities with many retirees.

In Pinellas County, the Times found an arcade operating slot machines with signage outside identifying the business as a “senior club.”

“These illicit gaming centers may appear innocuous at first glance, but … they are breaking state law, as are operators and customers of these illegal establishments,” the news release stated.

“Adult arcades offering illegal gambling provide zero consumer protections, no guarantee of fair play and no recourse if an operator disappears with the customer’s money.”

The AARP and gaming commission released a list of signs that likely mean you’re in an illegal gambling facility. These include slot machines operating outside tribal land or Miami-Dade or Broward counties, businesses awarding cash prizes and facilities offering sports betting, which remains illegal in Florida.

Outside the Galaxy Arcade in St. Petersburg.
Outside the Galaxy Arcade in St. Petersburg. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]

Florida’s gaming commission is asking for the public’s help identifying illegal gambling. It asks that people contact local law enforcement, or contact the commission by filing a complaint online or by calling 850-880-3433.

The commission said it is committed to pursuing criminal charges against the owners of gambling facilities — not their patrons — but warned that gambling in such establishments remains a crime.

The commission also released a map of every legal casino and pari-mutuel facility where gambling is legal in Florida — at — as well as a search tool to look up a gambling establishment’s license.

Related: Illegal gambling in Florida takes the form of slot machine 'arcades'