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Games bid to win over sheriffs

To pre-empt legal trouble in a rollout of slot-like devices, Spectre will meet with law enforcement agencies.

By JAMES THORNER
Published May 2, 2006


It flashes and whirs like a slot machine. It spins like a slot machine. It gobbles money like a slot machine.

But Spectre Gaming Inc. wants you to know that the “Las Vegas style video device” it’s test marketing in Florida is a different animal as innocent as Chuck E. Cheese.

Encouraged by Florida’s reputation as a leisure and retirement Shangri-La, Spectre is considering a move into Pinellas and Hillsborough counties with casino-quality machines configured to sail in under state gambling restrictions. The state permits such slot-style devices as long as they require skill and aren’t mere games of chance.

With similarities to video poker, Spectre’s “amusement with prize’’ machines let players manipulate symbols on a spinning reel in hopes of assembling a winning combination. If successful, players collect points redeemable for prizes ranging from hats and T-shirts to china and knickknacks.

Spectre likens the machines to an adult version of kids’ computer games offered at Chuck E. Cheese and other arcades. The Minneapolis company has made hundreds of initial sales to adult arcades and bingo parlors in Palm Beach and Broward counties.

Whether the machines pass muster statewide remains to be seen. An estimated 200 game parlors popular mostly with retirees blanket the state. In issuing opinions on slot machine gambling, Attorney General Charlie Crist has relied on a 1995 law repeatedly challenged because of vagueness.

Companies have tried to exploit loopholes, only to be shut down by local sheriffs. In December, the state pulled the plug on several adult arcades in Citrus and Hernando counties. In February came the turn of Spinners Game Room in Dunedin, where its owners were accused of running an illegal casino.

To pre-empt any legal trouble, Spectre has scheduled meetings over the next 10 days with law enforcement agencies in Pinellas and Hillsborough, said Russell Mix, the company’s chief executive. He said the counties’ heavy retiree population makes them attractive.

“We don’t want to cause trouble. We want to make sure there’s receptivity for it,’’ said Mix, a former Nevada gaming agent and lawyer.

According to state law, merely pushing a button to stop figures spinning on a screen doesn’t constitute skill. “Some of them claim to have a skill, but in fact it doesn’t really require a skill,’’ Crist spokeswoman JoAnn Carrin said.
Nevertheless, slot-style machines seem to be proliferating. Gov. Jeb Bush is negotiating with the state’s two casino-owning Indian tribes, the Seminoles and Miccosukees, over their request to operate slots that dispense cash.

The tribes operate a combined seven casinos around the state, including Tampa’s Hard Rock Seminole Casino, but have been limited to bingo slots where gamblers compete against other players but not the house. Last year, Broward County voters approved slots at prescribed race tracks and jai alai parlors.

On Friday, Spectre announced that an independent test laboratory certified its games were skill-based. The company cautioned that Florida law doesn’t specify the skills required of players, so each new entry into the market can become a test case.

“’With this recent certification, Spectre is now in position to deliver what it believes to be the only compliant system within the Florida marketplace,” company president D. Bradly  Olah said.

“This market has historically been served by gray-area suppliers who have delivered games that are constantly being challenged by state prosecutors and local sheriffs.”

Spectre trades over the counter as a penny stock (symbol: SGMG.OB).

James Thorner can be reached at thorner@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3313.

[Last modified May 2, 2006, 22:09:59]


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