ROSELAND — Deputies raided Moonlight Express Video Arcade on Wednesday in a crackdown on illegal gambling houses statewide that investigators say milk thousands of dollars from their patrons. The deputies seized cash in excess of $20,000, more than 60 electronic devices and arrested two employees.
“The machines these arcades use are not regulated or inspected to meet the requirements of state law,” Indian River County Sheriff’s spokesperson Sgt. Kevin Jaworski said. “Owners can program them to have a higher loss rate which victimizes the patron.”
The raid was a joint effort by the Indian River County Sheriff’s Office and the Florda Gaming Control Commission. Several other gambling houses have been recently raided and shut down on the Treasure Coast, including five in St. Lucie County since September.
“The arcades are crime generators. We’ve seen drug dealers set up shop in them in the evenings, robberies of winners or personnel of the arcades moving large amounts of cash, and other crimes associated with their illegal operations in our county,” Indian River County Sheriff Eric Flowers said. “For far too long, they have been thumbing their noses at the law. With the help of our partners at the Florida Gaming Control Commission and prosecuting attorneys, we have done our best to shutter their doors without wasting our detectives’ time.”
Moonlight Express permanently closed following the raid, said Tracy Nocerino, who has owned the business for 15 years. Nocerino – who was not present during the raid – said the sheriff’s office issued a warrant for her arrest.
Sheriff’s officials are working with county commissioners to implement an ordinance in the coming weeks that will shut down any remaining arcades with illegal gambling activity.
“Over a year ago, I approached the county commission about an ordinance to ban these illegal gambling operations in our county. Many of these arcades started as innocent places for seniors but quickly turned into drug dens that ultimately brought other crimes such as robbery and theft,” Flowers said in a statement. “Additionally, these arcade machines are not regulated and the odds are stacked against our good-intentioned citizens in a predatory way.”
Daniel DeCoursey, chief of law enforcement with the Florida Gaming Control Commission, said Nocerino could also face fines of up to $10,000 per machine.
Sheriff’s detectives and gaming control officials led the search Wednesday morning at Moonlight Express located in the Riverwalk Shopping Center off U.S. 1 in Roseland. The business had been operating as a suspected gambling house for some time and was given notice to shut down the illegal activities more than a month ago, officials said.
“They closed for a short time but decided to reopen and continue their illegal gambling activities,” sheriff’s officials said in a statement.
Deputies arrested two workers, who were each charged with keeping a gambling house and released the same day on $500 bond. Jaworski said no robberies or theft were reported at Moonlight Express.
Nocerino said the business had patrons that were mostly older people. The owner said Moonlight Express was giving out cash prizes up until three weeks ago and then let patrons order prizes online from Walmart or Target.
Nocerino said the raid took her by surprise.
“The sheriff’s office said we were allowed to do prizes,” Nocerino said. “I’ve been in this town for 15 years. I figured they would do this to someone else, not me.”
Jaworski said all arcades within Indian River County were given a warning and educated on the law.
“We noticed the owners that they were operating illegally and most voluntarily closed their doors without any other action on our part,” Flowers said. “We are now holding the select few who refuse to comply accountable.”