Jacksonville city council member wants to legalize adult game rooms to keep them safer

Councilman Garrett Dennis wants to limit the number of adult game rooms in the city to 20

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Adult game rooms in Jacksonville are back and one city council member wants to make them legal.

The city shut them down three years ago and called them illegal gambling spots.

Now, they’re operating underground and there is a push to legalize them again.

The legislation will be introduced next week to the city council.

“You sit and you play on your phone just like you were playing at a casino. And when you win they give you your money right then,” said Rachele Russ, who was at a Jacksonville gaming room on Tuesday.

Councilman Garrett Dennis is working to change that because he said there are now hundreds operating illegally throughout Jacksonville and says it’s time to bring them under control.

“They are underground they are a haven for crime. It’s time to bring them into the light and regulate them.” Dennis said.

Ten illegal gaming rooms have been cited by the city this year. It actually tried to bust 36 of them but did not find machines in all of the locations.

RELATED: Mayor asks residents to help identify illegal Jacksonville adult game rooms

News4JAX went to many of those locations like a restaurant that was listed as a location cited by the city. The owner explained he did not have a slot-like machine but that it was more of an ATM that paid off people when they won on their phones.

The legislation that Dennis plans to file would restrict that kind of operation. In fact, it says the city shall limit the total number of adult game rooms to 20.

“There’s hundreds all over our city that are robbing the consumer and it’s wrong. And now it’s time to shut them down and limit the number of operators,” Dennis said.

During the past year News4JAX has been to several of these sites. They are operating discreetly, no signs saying what’s going on inside.

That’s much different than in the past when News4JAX was allowed in and operators were eager to show what was going on inside.

Over the past two decades, the city and state have made numerous attempts to try and shut down these adult game rooms.

Attorney Kelly Mathis who represented several game room owners is not surprised they are making a comeback.

“I know that the game room operators felt that they got a raw deal from the city three years ago when they were shut down on short notice after they have been operating in Jacksonville for years,” Mathis said.

Mathis was arrested in 2013 for his involvement in representing some game room clients, but those charges were eventually dropped. News4JAX asked why he is getting involved again.

“I felt very strongly from the beginning that I did nothing wrong and I still feel that way,” Mathis said.

And people like Russ are glad to hear the fight is back on.

“Because a lot of people, particularly elderly people, they like playing,” Russ said.

About the Author:

Jim Piggott is the reporter to count on when it comes to city government and how it will affect the community.