WINTER HAVEN — In Florida, the Powerball Lottery system will offer some lucky winner a jackpot of $80 million on Saturday, tempting Sunshine State residents to visit their local convenience store, buy a Lottery ticket, and help make the state’s top gambling operation a big financial success.
But in a state where gambling remains heavily regulated, two men were arrested on Monday and charged with trying to illegally horn in on the state’s profitable betting operation. The two convenince store owners were arrested for possessing and operating gambling machines without the state’s regulatd seal of approval.
Both men were taken to the Polk County Jail. Mitul Patel, a 22-year-old employee at the 7 Days Food Mart, who lives at 7565 Carlton Arms Boulevard in Winter Haven, was charged with keeping a gambling house — a Class 3 felony — three counts of possession of gambling devices, and possession of drug paraphernalia.
Also arrested was the store owner, 28-year-old Vishal Kartikkumar Patel of 7565 Carlton Arms Boulevard, who was charged with keeping a gambling house, possession of gambling devices, and wholesale distribution of drug paraphernalia.
Vishal Patel was released from the Polk County Jail on $3,500 bond, while Mitul Patel got released on $3,000 bond.
The bust happened on Monday, after the Polk County Sheriff’s Office got a tip that the 7 Days Food Mart at 1123 6th St. NW in Winter Haven was operating slot machines.
When detectives went to the store, they found “three separate upright gambling devices that were fully operational by the front checkout counter,” noted Scott Wilder, the director of communication for the Polk County Sheriff’s Office, in his report on the arrests.
The two “Electronic Cherry Picker” gambling machines were operating like traditional slot machines, Wilder noted.
“Detectives also located a quarter machine that allows a player to insert quarters with hopes of causing multiple quarters to fall from a platform within,” Wilder said, adding that these devices are a violation of Florida’s gambling statutes, and were seized.
The two men also landed in more trouble when detectives discovered they were selling drug scales, glass pipes and Chore Boy screens, items that Wilder said are “used in conjunction with illegal drugs.”
Although the Florida government has been in the gambling business for decades, the state strictly regulates what it calls “gambling houses,” an offense punishable as a felony of the third degree.
“Whoever, whether as owner or agent, knowingly rents to another a house, room, booth, tent, shelter or place for the purpose of gaming shall be punished,” state laws warns.
To clarify the distiction between legal state lottery gambling and illegal operations, the law notes that “It is the intent of the Legislature to provide additional entertainment choices for the residents of and visitors to the state, promote tourism in the state, and provide additional state revenues through the authorization of the playing of certain games in the state at facilities known as cardrooms which are to be located at licensed pari-mutuel facilities. To ensure the public confidence in the integrity of authorized cardroom operations, this act is designed to strictly regulate the facilities, persons, and procedures related to cardroom operations. Furthermore, the Legislature finds that authorized games as herein defined are considered to be pari-mutuel style games and not casino gaming because the participants play against each other instead of against the house.”
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