CENTRAL FLORIDA - Agents said they served four arrest warrants and 12 search warrants related to charges of racketeering, illegal slot machines and illegal financial transactions in central Florida on Tuesday.
Investigators with the Metropolitan Bureau of Investigation and the Orange County Sheriff's Office said they determined that casino-style slot machines, owned by Specialized Games, LLC, were being used for gambling by customers at gas station convenience stores in many Florida communities.
Authorities said undercover agents went to locations in Orange and Osceola counties and obtained evidence that the slot machines accepted cash, inserted by customers into a slot, then allowed customers to bet credits, and possibly win more credits based on the result.
The slot machines would then provide the customer a printed ticket with the amount of credits printed on the ticket.
"Undercover agents went in and played the machines and found out, yeah, it was gambling," said Larry Zwieg of MBI.
Evidence shows that at 10 locations in Orange County and one in Osceola County, the customer could then cash in the ticket with the store clerk or owner and get cash or merchandise equal in value to the credits printed on the ticket.
One of the raided gas station was a Citgo along South Rio Grande Avenue.
But customers who talked with WFTV said they didn't see anything wrong with the slot machines, and they were sad to see them go.
Customers said the machines were very popular and might have been in the stores for at least a few years.
"They were popular," said customer John Wozniak. "And there are stores up and down this street and on OBT that have the same machines."
But investigators said the owners knew the machines were illegal.
Agents also hit an Ocala storage unit they said Specialized Games was using as a central Florida base.
In Orlando, investigators arrested Charles Sikking, a Specialized Games employee who was servicing the machines.
Agents said Sikking would split the winning with store owners.
"They didn't try to hide behind sweepstakes or anything like that," said Zwieg. "It was pretty blatant. It was regular gambling."
But an attorney for Specialized Games argues that he believes the games were sweepstakes.
Agents also arrested two store owners, including Shaikh Arfan, the owner of Xpress Food Maxx on Silver Star Road.
Manager Babul Hai said he was surprised when agents seized two machines and arrested his boss.
“They just came this morning without no notice,” he said.
Hai said that when agents took the machines, it was the first time he and Arfan found it they were illegal. He said the gaming company told them the machines were legal.
“If we knew they were illegal, we would not keep it,” Hai said.
MBI said it will check the machines, but they believe each one could have brought in as much as a $1,000.
MBI said Specialized Games had permits, but they were essentially permits for things like pinball machines.
An attorney for the company told WFTV they have machines in hundreds, if not thousands, of stores in Florida.
Agents ask that anyone with additional information related to the investigation or anyone who can report the locations of slot machines in local bars, grocery stores or gas stations, please contact the MBI at 407-836-9701.