Patrons arrested during arcade raid: No idea gambling illegal

Published: Sep. 20, 2023 at 7:45 PM EDT
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A group of patrons arrested in a raid at Rio Arcade in St. Lucie County told WFLX they feel the situation is unfair, saying they didn’t know the gambling was illegal.

St Lucie County deputies raided Rio Arcade on U.S. 1 on Thursday for what they said was illegal gambling and arrested about 30 to 40 patrons inside.

Three of those people were Diane Sharpe, Nicholas Frick and his wife, Krista Nabeack. They met WFLX’s Kate Hussey outside the now-shuttered arcade Wednesday, nearly a week after getting a notice to appear in court.

Diane Sharpe (left), Nicholas Frick and his wife, Krista Nabeack were arrested while gambling...
Diane Sharpe (left), Nicholas Frick and his wife, Krista Nabeack were arrested while gambling during a raid at Rio Arcade in St. Lucie County.

"I'm very disappointed," Nabeack said. "It's just not fair."

"And I was winning for a change," added 76-year-old Sharpe, who said she was using a machine when deputies walked in. "And they took the money!"

All three of the patrons said they had no idea when they went in that gambling is against the law.

"We didn't hear anything about anything being illegal here, there’s a whole plaza full of arcades, totally open the same time this was, there was no warning sign from the sheriff," Frick said.

"I was up in New Jersey. I come back, I didn’t know what was going on here," Sharpe said. "I went to the arcade, no one told me it was illegal!”

The State Attorney’s Office for Martin, St. Lucie and Indian River Counties told WFLX gambling has pretty much always been illegal in Florida in some form or another, but last year, there was a new bill passed that made investigating and prosecuting illegal gambling outside of specific places. At that time, Gov. Ron Desantis established the Florida Gaming Control Commission to help crack down on illegal gambling.

Sharpe, Frick and Nabeack said they feel that wasn't publicized.

"They should have told us something," Sharpe said.

WFLX asked St Lucie County Sheriff Ken Mascara: What happens if someone didn’t know gambling was illegal?

"We have tried to tell you and educate you about the law, and that this day is coming," Mascara said.

While Mascara wasn’t available for an interview Wednesday, he previously told Hussey that this wasn’t the Sheriff’s Office’s first raid. In May, deputies raided an illegal arcade in Fort Pierce. At that time, Mascara said there were about 50 arcades still operating illegal gambling machines along U.S .1.

Since then, he said about half have closed, leaving 25 still open.

"Once we get this all taken care of, we will move on to the next one," Mascara said.

Still, Nabeack, Frick and Sharpe said with Rio Arcade still clearly open up until Thursday, and its blatant advertising out front, it's confusing, especially since they said they got no warning from those operating the arcade.

“They said they were legal!" Sharpe said.

“They said they did all the modifications they were supposed to do," Nabeack added.

"Do you feel taken advantage of by the people here?" Hussey asked.

“100%," Nabeack responded.

Now, all three people could be facing a second-degree misdemeanor, which in Florida could be punishable by fines of up to $500, 60 days in jail or about six months of probation.

"I hope not!" Sharpe said.

Frick and Nabeack said they just want one thing.

"Fairness. You know, there's 30 or 40 others around Diane’s age, it’s not fair to all of us," Frick said.

"How were we supposed to know it’s illegal?"Nabeack added.

According to Florida State Statute 849.08, anyone who plays or engages in any game at cards, keno, roulette, faro or other game of chance at any place, by any device whatever, for money or other thing of value shall be guilty of a misdemeanor of the second degree.

In other terms, while there are a number of places in Florida where gambling is legal, outside of those, it is illegal to have a slot machine. None of the designated locations for gambling are located on the Treasure Coast.

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