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Sheriff Fleming on Palm Coast and Bunnell Gambling Halls: “I Have Bigger Fish To Fry”

| August 19, 2011

The Palm Coast city government's newest neighbor at City Market Place. (© Fl0

Flagler County Sheriff Don Fleming is not interested in chasing after low-stakes gambling halls such as Internet cafes, he said Thursday. “I think it is gambling, but I just don’t have the resources or the higher-ups to go after them,” Fleming said. He discussed the matter with State Attorney R.J. Larizza, who also told him he was more interested in focusing prosecutions on more serious matters.

The Palm Coast and Bunnell city governments are trying to decide whether and how to regulate proliferating gambling halls posing under a variety of euphemisms–“internet cafes,” “penny arcades,” “sweepstakes games,” and a local favorite: “selling Internet time.” The sheriff’s decision will have wide implications on those regulations, now that Fleming is ruling out addressing gambling halls as a law enforcement problem.

Earlier this week Fleming sent a letter, drafted in the form of an opinion, to the Palm Coast and Bunnell city governments telling them as much.

“This homegrown nuisance known as Internet cafes has forced agencies within our counties to prioritize what is truly needed,” Fleming wrote. “To focus our energies on the internet cafes would be a costly undertaking. For example, undercover players and expert witnesses would be required, adding to the cost of investigating and prosecuting these cases. A significant financial burden would be placed on local law enforcement agencies as well as the judicial system and the State Attorney’s office. Each establishment and each incident would be investigated and judged on a case by case basis.”

Palm Coast and Bunnell are working on ordinances related to gambling halls. Palm Coast’s hasn’t yet been presented to the city council, though the council’s attorney this week asked for a workshop on the issue. Bunnell submitted its proposal to the commission last week. Bunnell would make broader allowances for gambling machines in the city by allowing businesses to have as many such machines as they want–as long as the machines don’t generate more than 50 percent of the business’ revenue. The ordinance does not set out how, and under what authority, the city would be able to verify whether a business generates more or less than 50 percent of its revenue from the machines.

The ordinance did not appeal to some members of the commission, particularly John Rogers, who wants all gambling establishments banned. He had support from Commissioner Daisy Henry, but no support at all from Elbert Tucker and Jenny Crain-Brady, who are opposed to regulating people’s behavior when it comes to that form of gambling.

Mayor Catherine Robinson was willing to table the ordinance pending an opinion from Fleming on how he defined the cafes and whether he would tackle them. On Monday, Grady Judd, the sheriff in Polk County, raided and closed one internet cafe–the only one in Polk County–in Davenport, saying he would not allow them to proliferate in that county.

Fleming said he had great respect for Judd, but that he wouldn’t follow the same strategy in Flagler. “I have bigger fish to fry,” he said, citing, for example, the county’s problem with prescription drugs.

“The pill problem is a hell of a lot bigger,” Fleming said, referring to prescription pills such as oxycontin, oxycodone and other narcotics that have been keeping law enforcement busy in Florida, particularly along the I-95 corridor. Every local government has a six-month moratorium on approving new pain clinics, some of which, elsewhere in the state, have been used as fronts, or pill mills.

Palm Coast also has a six-month moratorium in place to prevent new Internet cafes from opening, though more than half a dozen are already operating in the city. The latest just opened its doors literally a few doors down from Palm Coast’s offices, at City Market Place on Cypress Boulevard. Fleming is asking Palm Coast to extend both moratoriums for another six months to give either the Legislature time to address regulation statewide or pending litigation to make its way through the courts. Fleming is keeping an eye on a federal case in Seminole County, where the county commission banned internet cafes only to be sued by Allied Veterans, the non-profit organization. That case is on appeal.

“If Seminole does win that case, you’ll see the whole complexion change in the state,” Fleming said.

What all those arcades or cafes have in common is gaming machines that work on chance, and ensure that the house always wins more than it loses. That, by state statute, defines them as gambling establishments, though state statute is also contradictory, in that it leaves the decision to address the matter to local law enforcement. Several non-profit organizations that cater to veterans or sick children or other such causes also use the machines to raise funds and give their members something to do. To Tucker, the Bunnell commissioner, state law is even more contradictory when it makes lottery sales legal. He considers the lottery gambling as well, but would oppose regulating it.

Rogers said Friday that his position in opposition to the city’s proposed ordinance hasn’t changed despite the sheriff’s opinion.

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27 Responses for “Sheriff Fleming on Palm Coast and Bunnell Gambling Halls: “I Have Bigger Fish To Fry””

  1. Bunnell res says:

    Thanks for the help Don. I Guess that Bunnell and Palm Coast citizens dont get the services of the Sherrifs office that they help pay taxes for. I guess next year is an election year and he has to begin kissing the right ass’s.

  2. Layla says:

    You know, this is a good example of the misplaced trust the people have in their local governments. I can think a at least a dozen ways to help veterans and sick children without resorting to gambling. NOTHING good is associated with this and we all know it. I guess the best way to judge it is to say:

    Would I want my children to participate? (They are)

    Do I want on in my neighborhood? (They are)

    Maybe it’s time for the feds to look into Allied Veterans.

  3. William G says:

    Ignorance in plain view: I do not like gambling, all gambling is bad, arrest everybody, prohibit it, throw everybody in jail, forget the cost, forget that responsible adults gamble all of the time. We go to Vegas, NJ, gambling boats, buy lottery tickets. We used the internet (recently made illegal for US citizens only) while gambling against participants from over 100 different countries. Due to the ignorance and the insatiable appetite of many ‘do-gooders’ to control the behavior of their neighbors, these ‘nice people’ (Bertrand Russell) support legislation to control gambling, except when the church openly provides Bingo and the government supports lotteries. Ignorant rubbish, all of it.

  4. Art says:

    William G.
    This sheriff or any sheriff, for that matter, that decides which laws he or she will, or will not enforce is doing the public a disservice, because it sends a mixed message. If this is going to be the case the sheriff should publish a list of laws that will be enforced and those that will not be so that we the public will know how to comport ourselves.

    The morality of gambling is an entirely different issue.

  5. Honest Abe says:

    William, “rubbish”, well said. Tuckers’ point about it being really not much different from our own state lottery, your point of bingo at the church our Federal stock market or these internet cafe’s. Are they really much different from one another or are they the same dog of a different breed (with no offense intended to our canines). I think the sheriff’s point is he does not see these internet cafe’s as being the source of what is driving and causing crime to occur in this county. It’s obvious that when your (few but) only gun point robberies in this county and the surrounding counties and majority of burglaries are drug and pill related, I agree, there is a bigger fish to fry. Not to say these internet cafe’s should not be monitored and location controlled for future prosecution (if court rulings determine they are illegal) if and when that time comes. Until then, just laugh at those who chose to throw there money away, be it to these cafe’s, the church, state or feds.

  6. dontbesoparanoid says:

    @ Art…

    I guess I read the article differently…The message I got out of it is that there really are not enough resources for the Sheriff to invest and a State Attorney who says he has bigger fish to fry. So why should Fleming put resources he doesn’t have into fighting this nuisance if it isn’t going to go anywhere in court? He stated he is waiting as I am sure our SAO is as well, to see what happens with the Seminole County case. If the law wins, we will see an end to internet gambling here.

  7. CLUE says:

    You’re all kidding right??? (except dontbesoparanoid)

    So the sheriff should go on your morals crusade… If you don’t want to gamble then don’t… If you have a problem with gambling call Gov. Rick Scott aka. nitwit and tell him to write a state law that will stop it or ban it… Or maybe we should just get the federal government to bring back prohibition, oh yeah that’s right it didn’t work either… We as residents of this county and state have a responsibility to act also, it not just the sheriff’s or state attorney’s job… Be an active citizen get the city council and or the county commissioners to write an ordinance that’s worth a damn… I’m glad he’s waiting to see whats going to happen in Seminole County, instead of wasting my hard earned tax dollars.

  8. Art says:

    Florida Gambling Statues # 849.08 Gambling: States whosoever plays or engages in any game cards, keno, roulette, faro or other Games of chance, at any place, by any device whatever, for money, or other thing of value shall be guilty of a misdemeanor of the second degree.

    Seems clear to me.

  9. Layla says:

    This is not a morals crusade. I don’t think I have to justify my comments due to the history of gambling in this country.

    These are going up in residential neighborhoods. That gives us the right to question. If the sheriff isn’t watching them, we are. That’s all. No morals involved.

    But anything within a few yards of homes and schools puts it in that category. Common sense????

  10. SAW says:

    Layla, Once again, you need to realize “common sense” died a long time ago, along with most of our countries greatest generation, sad but true.

  11. dontbesoparanoid says:

    The “Sheriff” is not responsible for the prosecution and if those that are, aren’t willing to put forth the effort after arrests are made and machines confiscated etc. etc.. then it’s a waste of time for the Sheriff’s Office to make these cases. I’ll just be patient and see what happens in Seminole county.

  12. Layla says:

    Good point.

    However, one of the reasons I find myself drawn to this site is that it offers an opportunity for some good discussion, an opportunity to point out concerns some may not be aware of.

    We have one of these places quite literally in my residential neighborhood, just a few blocks from a school. I have witnessed drug deals going down at this site, in the open. I have expressed my concerns to the sheriff’s office.

    If the sheriff needs help, he needs to say so. He might start with warning the owner of the property. Fleming is aware of all this.

  13. Draco says:

    I suppose it would be a different story if the “sheriff” was to find his son gambling in one of these internet cafes. Funny how things don’t become important until its ‘your kid” invoved in something illegal.

  14. dontbesoparanoid says:

    Layla & Draco,

    Of course illegal drug issues should be dealt with that is a different animal. Shutting these places down requires much more and if you read the article you would know that the Seminole Sheriff’s Office is embroiled in that issue now. So should our Sheriff’s Office go in and close all these places down immediately? Or do they wait and see what the state does in the Seminole County case? Because if Seminole S.O. loses their case they also lose all the time, money, and energy put into closing it down and possibly could face a civil lawsuit.

    • Pierre Tristam says:

      dontbesoparanoid needs to stop framing his otherwise instructive comments in condescending put-downs and scorn for other commenters. Editing those needless attacks is getting tiresome. It is also disturbing that that sort of attitude is the product of a Flagler County Sheriff’s employee: is that how this sheriff’s representative deals with the public at large, too? On our dime? Less anonymity (and I don’t mean reverting to your “captain courageous” hood) and more courtesy would do your comments’ credibility a world of good. Issues? Contact me directly:, but don’t bother doing it behind a mask.

  15. Chanceencounter says:

    First and foremost,

    Where are your statistics that crimes of any sort are occurring at these “horrible” places of business. I don’t go there, nor will I go there, and if all of you people don’t go there, then keep driving down the road and mind your own business. I have yet to see any headlines in any paper in Palm Coast, or in the USA that state: Internet Cafe’s linked to crime. If anything should be shut down is resturants/bars that serve alcohol. They seem to have people leaving those places regularly who end up KILLING SOMEONE ON THE Road!

    That is another thing, alcohol has more violence, more crimes committed, and more deaths from it than any other drug or chemical, but because it is legal, it is okay! More people die in DUI-alcohol related accidents then people on oxycontin, or crack cocaine. More innocent people are hurt because of alcohol than pills and illegal drugs. Our country spends more money on attempting to control something they never will, illegal drugs. It is a big waste of time trying to arrest people for illegal drugs, everytime you arrest one, another person steps up to the plate to sell it. The end result, tax payers now paying for someone in jail, while we continue to pay for the investigations and arrests for the next person. Horrible revolving door that never ends.

  16. Justhinkn says:

    Art, “any game of chance…any divice…any place….=guilty. This is clear to you? How about Lotto, Dog Racing, Horse racing, Poker rooms, Indian Casino’s, Jai-alia, Domino,s, Bingo, and other games…..all legal under the same law?

  17. Layla says:

    We have elections coming up and will have choices. Unfortunately, we have too many that are condescending to those they work for.

    As long as this particular hall is literally in the middle of my residential neighborhood and down the road from the school, we’ll be watching. I have already contacted the Sheriff’s dept. re the license number and description of a vehicle selling drugs to minors there. I have similar complaints from other neighbors. As long as there are drug deals going on in plain site, I could care less what the outcome in seminole is.

    The Sheriff’s duty is to protect and serve. If he is unable to do that, we have the option of voting him out. I’d like to think we can all work together here without being told to mind my own business. In this case, I don’t intend to do that.

  18. Art says:


    Not my words or definition, read the statute.

  19. some guy says:

    Layla says:We have one of these places quite literally in my residential neighborhood, just a few blocks from a school. I have witnessed drug deals going down at this site, in the open. I have expressed my concerns to the sheriff’s office.

    I dont get it is this place in a NON-commercial property if so it would/could be shut down right away. The other point of it being “just a few blocks away from a school” who cares it is in a COMMERCIAL zoned part of town. It has nothing to due with the children witch is just a line of bull used to get something one wants that otherwise they would not have a chance of getting.

  20. Justhinkn says:

    Art old buddy, you stated the law seemed clear to you, do you have any knowledge of all the gambling availiable in Florida? All legal. Seems the law is only used selectively. This type application of state law might be clear to you but to many others, including sheriff’s and congressman, lawyers and judges, plus thousands of citizens it is a bit ambiguous.
    Maybe a complete revamping of the laws and some education about gambling would be of some help.

  21. Art says:


    Think about this, in the real world real cops make arrests based on probable cause that a violation of law has taken place. Real prosecutors prosecute; politicians however, do what ever is politically expedient to gain re election.

    That’s my final word on the matter.

  22. Layla says:

    To Some Old Guy: It’s in a gas station, the BP station to be exact. Hardly what I would call a commercialized zone. Did you know that you can gamble at home, on your own computer? And it has everything to do with the children and the families who moved here.

    You are entitled to your opinion, as am I.

  23. Angela says:

    Hey Layla,
    If it’s in a gas station, then it’s in a location that has a commercial zoning NOT a residential zone. If you don’t like what’s near your residential neighborhood then check the surrounding zoning and land use and find out what could be built or placed there PRIOR to moving to that property.

  24. Isabel C Lopez says:

    I am an older resident of palm Coast having lived here for over 30 years.There is NOTHING for teens to do thats why they get in trouble.There is nothing for young children to do either.There is nothing for elderly people to do that’s fun.Whoever is against gambling then don’t play lotto,scratch offs,go to dog track or poker tables at the dog track.All of that is GAMBLING !!! Let us have some fun & no one gets hurt.Its our business if we want to play some bingo or go to an internet cafe.It really is ridiculous how some of you react to gambling but I assure you all go on cruises,& take tours for $100 bucks to gamble.Be serious & get a Life !!!

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