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GAME OVER: Clewiston’s last arcade temporarily closes amid illegal gambling shutdown

Police close final arcade in Clewiston, enforcing laws against gambling disguised as sweepstakes games
Posted at 7:42 PM, Feb 13, 2024
and last updated 2024-02-13 19:42:21-05

CLEWISTON, Fla. — Arcade rooms are currently a thing of the past in Clewiston. In December, Fox 4 reported that three out of the four arcades in town closed down because investigators say illegal gambling was taking place. Now, the last one, May Arcade, has closed up too, albeit temporarily.

So, how does an arcade get away with illegal gambling? Clewiston's Chief of Police, Tom Lewis, said it has to do with ‘The Sweepstakes Law’.

“If you can remember the Monopoly game on the McDonald's cup or Publishers Clearing House - because those things were incidental to a consumer product, those games of chance became legal. These arcades then took advantage of that law and started offering gift cards for games of chance, essentially creating a legal gambling house," Lewis explained.

Lewis said it typically escalates from gift cards to cash prizes. He said people reported to them that’s what May Arcade was doing. So, they started looking.

"An officer went in, he actually played the game - paid cash, got cash - so, it was pretty obvious to us at that point," Lewis said.

Yet, Lewis said illegal gambling is not always easy to prove because of how fast software-based games change. “It’s a constant struggle for law enforcement because the laws don’t keep up with how fast technology changes, and when you get to gambling machines, technology plays a big part into whether or not the law applies to certain things,” Lewis added.

However, going forward, Lewis said the city has an ordinance to help prevent this from happening again.

“During the initial process, if somebody does apply to reopen a game room, the police department actually goes in to inspect, take inventory of the machines, and we verify right up front whether or not they’re legal or illegal,” said Lewis.

Now, Lewis say’s they’re just waiting to hear from May Arcade’s attorney about a permanent closure.