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Amy Sherman
By Amy Sherman June 25, 2012

Gimenez has not formed gambling task force

Even before the 2012 debate in Florida about whether to allow massive casino resorts -- including at the site of the Miami Herald building -- politicians debated how to respond to illegal gambling.

On his campaign website in 2011, Carlos Gimenez vowed to tackle the problem by forming an illegal gambling task force.

"These illicit slot-style machines are affecting our quality of life throughout the county; negatively impacting small, family-owned businesses; and stealing millions of dollars from our neediest residents,” he said.  "Most ominously, they are typically associated with organized crime."

The years-long controversy involved slots-like video gaming machines known as maquinitas in Spanish. The debate over the machines relates to whether they are games of chance or skill. State law forbids most gambling, but manquinita owners have claimed that their machines are games of skill, and in some cases courts have agreed.

Gimenez's opponent, Hialeah Mayor Julio Robaina, had the backing of the maquinita industry and had championed a law to allow the use of gaming machines as long as they are registered with the city and if they are not used for gambling. In April 2011 while Gimenez was a county commissioner he drafted legislation to create the task force, the Miami Herald wrote. Gimenez's proposal was tabled by a committee of commissioners in May 2011 when he was no longer a member of the board.

Gimenez has said he believed the video games were used for illegal gambling and that those behind the machines have ties to organized crime. In October 2010, Miami police seized more than 400 machines in a raid.

"There has been a lot of muddying the waters about what is legal and what is illegal,” Gimenez said. "I think the machines are all illegal themselves. We cannot allow this. It has a detrimental, negative impact on the quality of life.”

When we asked Gimenez's spokeswoman Suzy Trutie for an update in May, she told us that the county had monitored the state's proposed legislation on casino and resort gambling during the 2012 Legislative session.

"Since no state legislation was passed, the Mayor will be revisiting the creation of the County's Illegal Gambling Task Force in the future,” she wrote in a May 7 email. (We checked in with Trutie again June 6 and she said that still stands.)

The Miami Herald asked Gimenez about this goal in a Feb. 24 interview days before his annual state of the city address.

"We need to move on that. One of the things I was hoping on the gambling bill in Tallahassee was a reduction in illegal gaming,” he said.

This was a simple promise: Gimenez only vowed to create a task force to work with law enforcement -- we aren't grading him here on the outcome of that task force. But nearly one year after he won election in June 2011, Gimenez has not formed the task force. If a task force forms later, we'll re-evalute this promise. For now, we rate it Promise Broken.

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