One year after a gambling scandal prompted Florida to ban casino-style games from storefront arcades, cash is once again changing hands amid what appear to be video slot machines at businesses in Broward County, a Team 6 hidden-camera investigation has found.
An undercover producer who went into Play It Again arcade in Davie and Boardwalk Brothers in Tamarac was able to pay cash to obtain credits on a players card. After inserting the card into what appear to be video slot machines and playing for a period of time, the producer was able to exchange the remaining credits on the card for cash – based on how many credits she gained or lost.
The owners of both establishments, brothers Mitchell and Jason Fisher, sued the Broward state attorney last year to have the stiffer arcade law ruled unconstitutional. That federal lawsuit failed, but they say they have found a way around violating the law: they now call their locations “social clubs.”
They also deny the cash returned to players is based on accumulating points from winning spins on the machines. They say players get reward points, redeemable for merchandise or cash, but those points have no relationship to winning or losing points on the spins of the virtual wheels.
But the Team 6 Investigators producer saw her $18 in winnings at one location and $15 in losses at the other were based on points accumulated or lost through play on the digital machines.
The Florida Legislature banned casino-style machines from arcades last year as it revamped gambling laws in response to a crackdown on internet casinos, which claimed their gambling was legal under the state sweepstakes law.
Dozens were arrested, including Kelly Mathis, attorney for the group, Allied Veterans, which led what prosecutors called a $300 million illegal gambling operation. The lawyer was convicted of racketeering and received a six-year prison sentence, though he remains free pending appeal.
Then-Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll resigned on the day of the raids after investigators found she was paid public relations consulting money by Allied Veterans while a state legislator.
At the time, Gov. Rick Scott said Carroll resigned because “she was involved in a company that we know has been involved in criminal activity.”
But the Fishers say they are not breaking the law.
“The cash changing hands are not for anything as far as the game played,” Mitchell Fisher told Team 6 Investigators.
Informed that the Team 6 Investigator producer witnessed a correlation, Fisher said, “I’m not aware of that and I would look into that with the staff that we have there.”
Days later, he and his partner, brother Jason Fisher, watched the hidden camera video that appeared to show cash-based credits flowing from players cards through machines and then being paid out in cash.
“On that video you showed us, that screen that said $50 – that’s not dollars,” said Jason Fisher. “Those are credits and the important thing is not to confuse credits with reward points.”
Told that more credits led to winning at Play It Again and fewer credits produced a loss at Boardwalk Brothers, Jason Fisher said, “I don’t believe that. I got to investigate that because that should never happen.”
Agreeing that cash should never be exchanged for game credits at arcades was the Fisher’s own attorney, Michael Wolf, who also represents the Florida Arcade and Bingo Association.
“We don’t want to operate illegally,” Wolf said in an interview. “We don’t want to get arrested….Without question, paying cash in the arcade setting has never been legal.”
But the Fishers now say they are no longer an arcade.
“What we did is we changed our business to a social club so people pay a daily membership to come in to play at our location,” Jason Fisher explained.
His brother said the reward points are based on simply showing up, buying credits and spending time on the machines.
Davie Police tell Team 6 Investigators they have an active investigation underway, but neither they nor the state attorney would comment further.