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Slot machines dumped and crushed

Destruction of 144 machines began Wednesday and continues today. The video slots were taken from a local game room and will end up in the county landfill.

By JONATHAN ABEL
Published August 3, 2006


BROOKSVILLE - Atop a mountain of trash at the county landfill, sea gulls have moved in on the video slot machines that seniors used to play.

Wednesday and today, the Hernando Sheriff's Office will destroy all 144 of the machines that once flashed and whirred at Charles Bartlett's Spring Hill game room.

"It's like seizing crack cocaine," said prosecutor Mark Simpson. "Once it's determined that it is cocaine, it has the label stuck to it that it's contraband. You can't do anything with it other than destroy it."

The machines had been kept in air-conditioned self-storage units since Bartlett's business on Commercial Way was raided Dec. 20. On May 22, he pleaded guilty to a reduced charge.

Finally, on Wednesday morning, the destruction of the machines got under way.

A truck came by to scoop up the ATM-sized devices with names like "Gamera the Invincible" and carry them to the county landfill.

There they were trampled by an 80,000-pound tractor with studded steel wheels and a broad blade.

"When you do something different, there's a little highlight to it," said Larry Starkey, the heavy equipment operator who pulverized the machines. "It sounds like wood breaking."

The bits and pieces of the video slots were mixed in with toilet seats, garbage bags and dirt.

Sea gulls picked at the clutter.

"What a bunch of s---," Bartlett said, when he heard what had happened to the machines. "Unreal. These are high crimes?"

After his December arrest in Spring Hill, Bartlett commuted to Bradenton, where he started to manage a game room. He was arrested there in a crackdown on June 5.

The machines don't actually belong to Bartlett. He rented them from Reel Amusements of Murfreesboro, Tenn.

"We run into problems here or there, but we haven't run into any problems like this," said Kevin Sharp, the company's chief manager.

He maintained that the video slot machines are legal according to Florida statutes, but that prosecutors simply "interpret the law the way they want to."

Sharp was planning to file suit to prevent the machines - valued at $150,000 - from being destroyed, but his company's attorney never managed to do it.

"They're gone now," he said. "So there's nothing we can do now."

The game rooms were popular among senior citizens on the North Suncoast, who said they were a low-cost way to pass the time and make friends.

Proponents of the game rooms said they were no different from those at Chuck E. Cheese's, the popular children's arcade and restaurant.

But the State Attorney's Office argued that the video slot machines were games of chance, not games of skill, and thus illegal gambling devices.

Beyond the statutory obligation to destroy the machines, Simpson said, there were other practical benefits to crushing them.

"What I can assure you, based on the information I have, is that these particular machines won't be used again," he said.

The game room owners, however, might be harder to break.

"I'm out of the game room business, but if they change governors and the whole thing changes, I might get back in," Bartlett said.

And which gubernatorial candidate might do that?

Bartlett said he is supporting Charlie Crist.

Jonathan Abel can be reached at jabel@sptimes.com or (352) 754-6114.

[Last modified August 2, 2006, 22:32:33]


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