Clash escalates between Miami’s mayor and police chief over slot machines

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A war over gaming machines is breaking out in Miami, and it’s between Mayor Tomás Regalado and Police Chief Miquel Exposito, who was appointed by the mayor only 13 months ago.

The Miami Herald reported Wednesday on the escalating fracture between Regalado and Exposito, which is looking more like a power struggle every day.

Sources say that Exposito might be fired in the next few days by incoming City Manager Tony Crapp Jr. over the gaming machine flap, and other performance issues in the police department, including several controversial police shootings last summer and a number of mishandled corruption investigations in the early part of 2010.

The machines, long popular in cafeterias and bodegas, have been a thorn in the side of police and city officials, because some have been rigged in a fashion that makes them illegal gaming devices.

To be legal, the video gaming machines, which are designed to look like Las Vegas style slot machines, cannot be games of chance or provide any type of payback, even a credit for another play. As the machines began proliferating around Miami, some operators rigged them for cash payout or free drinks.

Last year, in attempt to regulate the machines and earn revenues for the city, Regalado sponsored a new city ordinance that would require a $500 annual tax for each machine after the operator registered it with the city. The new regulation is expected to raise about $750,000 annually for the city.

The new law makes the machines legal, as long as they are used just for amusement, and not gambling. The prior city law considered all machines to be illegal.

Police officials including Chief Exposito were vocally opposed to the ordinance, saying that it would only help proliferate illegal gaming throughout the city.

On October 25, 11 days after the ordinance took effect, the police department conducted a raid dubbed “Lucky 7” and seized 400 illegal machines and arrested 28 people, mostly store clerks. Neither city hall or the district attorney’s office were told about the raids in advance.

Sources at the police department, including Maj. Alfredo Alverez, told the Miami Herald that when Regalado heard of the raids, he demanded they be stopped, saying they would reflect badly on the administration in the upcoming November elections.

Regalado subsequently denied telling the police department to stop the raids.

In late December, Exposito sent a letter to Regalado saying “Through the Mayor’s office there was a concerted effort to interfere with the gambling enforcement operation. You, as the Mayor have gone beyond the legal bounds of your office.” The letter did not specify exactly what Regalado did to interfere with the police department.

Exposito’s letter also suggested that Regalado was beholden to gaming interests because donors connected to the group contributed $9,000 to his reelection campaign. Regalado raised a total of over $800,000 for his 2009 campaign.

On Wednesday, Miami Commissioner Richard P. Dunn II, said he will ask for Exposito’s resignation at the city’s Jan. 13 meeting. “If he doesn’t, I will lay out a whole litany of things. He’s trying to use intimidation [to save his job], that’s what the whole letter is about,” Dunn said. “I believe for the best interest of the city we need a mature, experienced veteran leader at that position.”

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