Raid sets standards for local retail shopping centers
Just before Christmas, the Charlotte County Sheriff’s Office and the Florida Gaming Control Commission executed a search warrant of two casino-style businesses that were operating in Charlotte County. One of the establishments was a bingo hall at Tiffany Square on McCall Road.
Their video showed Charlotte County deputies rolling out slot machines from the hall, which may be familiar to many who favor the sandwiches at Key West Subs, or find a good used book at The Book Worm.
Tiffany Square, just at the end of San Casa, is the sort of “fix it” shopping center of Englewood, with the most practical businesses around. The joke for us is that whatever your problem, you can get it fixed at Tiffany Square! There are useful businesses like a parcel store, blinds shop, a print center, a hearing aids store and an “I Fix” for broken cellphones. Notary too. There is also a dentist and physical therapist. They are all legit local small businesses, working daily to serve their community. Harkening back to the 19th century, there is even a cobbler and seamstress.
But the center tenant of the shopping center, which has the odd theme of a Tiffany Lamp (not a jewelry theme), is a bingo hall. Those of us who have visited the other practical businesses there may well have noticed a steady stream of gamblers. Never have we seen someone jumping out with excitement. Instead, the faces have been long, and the gait slow. If you are at the bingo hall at Tiffany, suffice to say that you probably will be actually down on your luck, as in the end, with any gambling, the house always wins.
Last February, Sheriff Prummell warned that his office was working with the Florida Gaming Control Commission’s Division of Gaming Enforcement to look for violations of Florida Statute 849.16, which prohibits slots. Local residents helped in the case, by reporting the activity to the state.
The Facebook posts regarding the raid on the CCSO page are a true window:
“I have won big and also lost big but that is the risk you take when walking into any casino, a personal choice each and every person should be allowed to make, if you don’t want to gamble then don’t enter these establishments no one is forced to play.”
But in this case, the Charlotte Sheriff’s Office fired back, repeatedly. They cited the law:
“It is a misdemeanor to gamble in an establishment that does not have a gaming license. For the record, you are correct that everyone should be allowed to make the choice to play – and they are – but only at a legal establishment. Take the drive, have fun with it. I assure you this is NOT a joke.”
There were, of course, many more comments coming from the libertarian side, including “Let the old people gamble their retirement money… it’s their money” to which the sheriff’s office replied, “Absolutely – in a legal gaming establishment.” They then added:
“If your choice is to gamble in an illegal establishment, then it is also your choice to face the misdemeanor charge that may come with it. Save some for bail.”
One comment had what would perhaps be the everyday view:
“I just don’t understand how so many of them can exist for so long. As a local citizen I don’t understand what I see as occasional policing, instead of managing the problem …”
Agreed, and a thought most have probably had with things that seem illegal that hide in plain sight. If you drive through most Florida suburbs, the closed bank branches can often be pot dispensaries and most of the normal mom and pop businesses are closed. There is, for instance, just one independent pharmacy in Englewood.
Can we call it Pottersville? Because at Christmastime, one of the classic movies is the RKO classic It’s a Wonderful Life.
Boca Grande perhaps more accurately reflects a tropical Bedford Falls, with our local bank named after a family (Crews Bank & Trust) and independent retailers. We even have a restaurant with a martini glass. That reflects the movie’s Giuseppi Martini, an Italian immigrant who is the first homeowner of the Bailey Park subdivision. (Director Frank Capra, an Italian, had a particular view of how immigrants could be assimilated into American society. Help them buy an affordable house.)
But Pottersville, which appears in George’s dream, is the reality of many American cities today. The payday loans, the strip clubs, the vape stores and such.
No need to go through the plot, as all have seen the Jimmy Stewart movie. But some critics call it a terrifying film. Rich Cohen wrote over a decade ago that “simply put, George has been cursed with knowledge” and he was a “good man driven insane” by the realities of America. That America was in 1946. It is less sane today.
Boca Grande trades on being an escape from Pottersville. We have great local, independently owned businesses. And just off island, there are hundreds more, each run by a local man or woman, who is doing their best to provide something of value, whether it be lunch or tile or flooring or fans or dry cleaning or gifts. Englewood is the sort of place where the Chamber of Commerce monthly social is the biggest event in town.
In some ways, it seems like a stand against a bingo hall has little chance of winning any culture war. Can it make a difference? After all, the NFL now has sportsbook partnerships with Caesars Entertainment, DraftKings and FanDuel.
But it was a step in the direction of some sort of limits, and sanity. No, you don’t get to do whatever the hell you please. We all have our vices, but it helpful that there are at least some boundaries.
But the raid was really about what sort of community we all want to live in. Retailing is all about anchor tenants, and your neighbors. A store owner wants to be near another successful retailer that draws good, paying customers.
It is a fact that when local money goes into illegal gambling, it not only does not circulate among legit businesses, but it makes many locals poorer.
Sheriff Prummell said it more simply in his video Arcade Showdown:
“You are taking the hard earned money and the retirement money of many of my residents.”
A little bit of George Bailey outrage goes a long way.
Garland Pollard is the editor of the Boca Beacon. Email your letters to email@example.com.