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Sheriff turning blind eye on illegal gambling

STORY BY EILEEN KELLEY, (Week of April 18, 2013)
Photo: Gambler inserting currency (not coins) into machine.

While strip mall gambling at internet cafés and arcades across Florida mostly whirred to a halt last Wednesday after Gov. Rick Scott signed a tough new bill into law, three Gold Mine arcades in Indian River County resumed operating illegally two days later – and a source said their owner had been given the green light by Sheriff Deryl Loar. Loar ignored repeated requests by Vero Beach 32963 for an explanation as to why these arcades were being allowed to operate in open violation of the law.

The three arcades are owned by Harold Dukes, a South Carolina resident who when he ran into trouble over his storefront casinos in that state last fall, bought a canal-front home here a couple of miles south of his Gold Mine Arcade at U.S. 1 and Oslo Road.

Dukes, who until about a year ago boasted of the large amounts of money his internet cafés and arcades provided to a charity he started called the Children’s Cancer Cooperative, is currently said to be the center of an investigation similar to the one that led to the arrests of 57 people connected to the Allied Veterans of the World internet café operation.

The Allied Veterans scandal – which prosecutors claim was a $300 million gambling ring disguised as a veterans charity – led to the law which Scott signed banning internet cafés and imposing restrictions on arcades that the local Gold Mine operations were flouting this past weekend.

Under the new state law, Dukes – who was said by sources to have told his managers to open the arcades last Friday – and his employees could face felony charges for operating illegal gaming houses.

One of the provisions of the new law is that only coins may be fed into the gaming machines – not paper currency or cards.  This is designed to limit wagering to no more than 25 cents at a time.

But on Sunday, an Ohio visitor fed dollar bills into a Gold Mine arcade machine, and it clicked to life as she hit the start button. Reels were spinning, lines moved across the screen, and sounds similar to those heard in Las Vegas-style casinos echoed around her.

The visitor’s luck wasn’t so good, so she fed another dollar into the machine. And another. And another.

She and 50 or so other patrons at the Gold Mine at Oslo on Sunday could all have been arrested on misdemeanor gambling charges.

Another provision of the new law is that the maximum arcade payout on a 25 cent bet can only be 75 cents.

That wasn’t the case Sunday.

“We just hit two $70 (payouts)," said a man as he and a female companion rose from their seats and called it a day after winning a combined $140.

Another man said he won $20, twice and had also got a $15 payout over the weekend.

Just 14 months ago when Vero Beach 32963 started writing about the gambling parlors that proliferated in Florida and the actions of sheriffs in other counties who had raided the facilities, Loar said he had no intention of shutting them down until he got clear some direction from the state.

That direction came Wednesday when the governor signed the bill into law.  The Florida Department of Law Enforcement also sent out fliers and copies of posters to State Attorneys, the Florida Sheriff’s Association and the Florida Police Chiefs Association for their use in warning operators that action – including arrests – would be taken.

One person, who asked to remain anonymous, called Vero Beach 32963 both Friday and Saturday, to say Dukes had reopened some arcades.

That person also called the Indian River County Sheriff’s Office to find out why the arcades were open. She came away from the call discouraged.

Repeated calls to Loar from Vero Beach 32963 for comment were not returned.

“I’ve received nothing,” said Sgt. John Curley, a patrol division supervisor who was working Saturday, when asked if the sheriff had given his commanders direction on the matter.

Curley said other people called the office over the weekend, asking how the Gold Mine operations could be open for business again.

“No orders have gone down and I don’t know of any plans,” Curley said. “…I only know what I read in the paper, but I don’t know how it is affecting the operations of businesses that we have in this county.”

A sheriff’s office spokesman also said the sheriff had not given him any information on the arcades. He said he informed Loar on Monday that Vero Beach 32963 wanted to talk to him on whether – as one source said – he met with Dukes, sanctioned Dukes opening his arcades and why the arcades were allowed to operate in violation of the new state law.

Loar did not respond, and Duke’s Gold Mine arcades were still operating as Vero Beach 32963 went to press Monday night.

In fact, the reopening of Dukes' arcades also apparently set off a chain reaction, with more and more arcade machines buzzing to life.

Outside the Mirage Arcade on 82nd Avenue, which is not owned by Dukes, an employee said Monday night his boss had gotten the OK to reopen from sheriff's attorney Jim Harpring. 

The man said his boss looked into opening after hearing Dukes had reopened many of his arcades Friday.

Further north in Sebastian, a few cars were parked outside some other arcades, although not all were open for business.

But Dukes’ Gold Mine 6 arcade near the Sebastian River Medical Center was open Monday night, as was the Dukes’ arcade at Oslo and U.S. 1 and another Dukes’ arcade on 17th Street near U.S. 1.