Inside the World of Adult Arcades
Betting, winning and losing at a Florida arcade. Just don't call it gambling.
It's 3PM on Friday afternoon in West Palm Beach and a lucky gambler just hit the jackpot: 2800 credits on a game machine inside an adult arcade located on a run down section of Military Trail. Although he admitted to losing a few games in the process (slot machines can be unapologetically brutal), the digital gold coins exploding on screen affirmed his big win and future payout.
It wasn’t gambling per se, he told me. But his experience was completely, totally, and absolutely the same thing as playing Las Vegas games, jackpot and all.
Welcome to the world of adult arcades where casino style slot machines — with spinning reels, ringing beeps and chimes — line the walls and interior space. If you’re curious to know more about them, adult arcades can be found all over the state of Florida, along roadside storefronts, in certain sections of town. Think of strip malls with pawn shops, massage parlors, quick loans, and beauty supplies, and that’s typically the spots you’ll find an arcade. Perhaps you haven’t seen one yet, like I hadn’t, until a few weeks ago when summer errands took me to North Military Trail, where oversized or undersized arcade signs pepper the street with nothing—and seemingly everything—to hide.
They tend to operate the same. From the outside, each arcade is concealed by heavily tinted windows, decorated with colorful stickers like ‘777’ or ace cards and cherries, and they advertise as open most hours of the day and night. Once buzzed inside (you cannot freely walk into these establishments), electronic gaming machines, stools and chairs, and an attendant booth sit idly by, waiting for lucky or unlucky patrons to purchase a game or two or two hundred, in the hopes of winning anything from credits, gift cards, cash, or prizes. Some cash prizes go upwards to the tens of thousands.
Nonetheless, even though adult arcades operate in a similar way, many of them are downright frightening —no windows, decrepit buildings, seedy characters loitering outside, foreboding vibes — and hotbeds for violence and other criminal activity. These are places you do not want to visit — no matter how curious you may be — ever. These are not good places.
But last Friday my curiosity got the best of me. Bringing my husband along for support (and protection) as we searched through a variety of arcade options up and down North Military Trail, eventually finding what appeared to be a respectable-looking establishment, minus any foreboding vibes of impending doom. Lucky for us, it proved to be a solid choice, and even more lucky, we nearly had the place to ourselves.
And so began our first experience inside an adult arcade where empty chairs, one after the other, sat undisturbed, Kanye West played on speakers overhead, and casino-style slot machines lit up the narrow isles—glowing greens, yellows, purples, blues, and reds—each waiting to take our money and go for a spin. I’m not sure what I expected once inside; perhaps dirty floors and a cigarette smell. But it was reasonably clean, surprisingly comfortable, and with the exception of one other patron, the arcade was empty.
Of course, we weren’t entirely alone. We had Dee. We first came to know Dee by her thick, buttery voice, speaking to us through a heavily-tinted (and most likely) bulletproof glass booth, where game vouchers are bought and sold and driver’s licenses are scanned. We got lucky with Dee that Friday afternoon. In fact, due to our obvious newbie status, she became, in a way, our personal concierge, helping us navigate the unknown world of adult arcading.
“Baby, ya’ll play whatever game you want,” Dee said when I asked about the different games. “You just gonna use this voucher here on these games to the left, but the games in the middle, over there, take cash only.”
“And people win big on those games,” she said, pointing to the middle of the room. “I’ve seen it with my own eyes.”
Betting The Odds
Depending on who you talk to, adult arcades are a real problem in parts of Florida, contributing to violent crime and illegal gambling. Add money laundering and racketeering to the list of common complaints and violations, and it’s a mystery these establishments even exist. Several county and city governments, including Palm Beach Gardens, are proposing legislation to shut down arcades completely, while places like Jacksonville have banned them altogether.
And, still, adult arcades show no definitive signs of slowing down, at least not yet. Until recently, Chuck E. Cheese type loopholes — play games and win prizes — have allowed these establishments to operate in ways that navigate murky laws, riding the thin line of what’s legal and what’s not, where activities inside closely resemble gambling, often leading to the real thing. And local police rarely, if ever, get involved, unless notified, often from arcade owners, of a violent crime or drug use.
That being said, the Florida Gaming Control Commission, an agency created in 2022 as part of the updated contract with the Seminole Tribe, has begun statewide crackdowns, raiding and shuttering multiple arcades across Florida, confiscating millions in assets, cash, gaming machines, computers, and ATMs. Several other establishments have recently been issued warnings and now run the risk of being shut down.
But, according to a recent report by the Tampa Bay Times, arcade owners claim the risk is worth the reward, with some operators making $20,000 to $60,000 in profit a month. Arcades also help the local economy, according to owners, by creating jobs and taking over deserted storefronts, generating income for landlords and local residents.
Rest assured, however, the act of gambling is not the issue here. If it was, there would be no state-approved casinos or Florida lottery. The issue is control. In Florida, only The State or The Tribe can claim dominion over legal gambling. The Seminoles maintain exclusive rights in Florida to operate games such as slots and blackjack while the Miccosukee offers non-banked poker and bingo-style games. Just recently, Governor Ron DeSantis expanded the Tribe’s gambling privileges through a $2.5 billion deal which includes online sports betting.
Even though adult arcades have often faced strong opposition, odds are good they will endure. Simply look back at history. Ten years ago, a statewide investigation uncovered a $300 million illegal gambling operation, resulting in a brief closure of arcades around the state. But they came back, finding new ways to stay open with little to no recourse, other than a threatening letter, and the possibility that they could be raided at any time.
Despite the uncertainty and ambiguity surrounding adult arcades, and without giving too much away, our first-time experience was largely positive. We even discussed, in our naiveté, the idea of visiting a few other arcades within walking distance, though they looked a bit dubious. Then, Dee, in a sudden shift of temperament, put her hands on her hips and shook her head.
“Ya’ll be careful where you go,” she said with a straight face. “A lot of these places ain’t no good. Best to stay away if it don’t feel right.”
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