Updated:CENTRAL FLORIDA,None —
9 Investigates researched strip mall casinos that are popping up across Central Florida and why they open up in certain areas. Investigative reporter George Spencer studied the location data and discovered that there is a trend.
With modest homes, Apopka's 32703 zip code typifies the trend that Spencer uncovered in neighborhoods where strip mall casinos are setting up. According to Spencer's research, the majority have below-average incomes.
Resident Connie Cotterman said she worries that the industry targets those who have the most to lose with simulated gambling.
"The rich already know that you're not going to win on the slots. But the poor don't," said Cotterman. "They think they're gonna get a lot of money."
Spencer reviewed Allied Veterans locations in Central Florida because their addresses are publicly listed.
Of the 16 zip codes where Allied Veterans is operating and where census data is available, Spencer found 11 zip codes had average incomes below the national median.
Businessweek quoted one cafe operator, who is not connected to Allied Veterans, as saying, "lower income customers are coming in because they're bad at math. They're coming in to try and catch a big break."
The businesses are currently legal, but Representative Scott Plakon said he wants to shut down the industry.
"I think it says a lot about them, that they're doing that," said Plakon.
Earlier this year, WFTV discovered some state welfare recipients were using their cash benefits in strip mall casinos. However, Allied Veterans took action by blocking those transactions.
By email, Allied Veterans insisted that it is not targeting anyone in particular, saying it "does not do demographic or neighborhood analysis."
The group said it looks for what any business would: proximity to major roads, available space and parking, and reasonable rent.
Plakon, however, said he is doubtful.
"Allied Veterans is a very sophisticated $100 million to $200 million a year business. So, the notion that they don't do demographic research before they open one of their mega casinos, I don't buy it," said Plakon.
WFTV's investigation used census data from 2000, which is likely the most recent data strip mall casino operators would've had access to when opening locations in the area.
There are many strip mall casino operators other than Allied Veterans, but none of the others publish a list of their locations.