Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Gambling Bust Damages Strip Centers

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Gambling Bust Damages Strip Centers

Article excerpt

Byline: Tonyaa Weathersbee

When law enforcement officials recently shut down gaming centers amid charges they were fronts for illegal gambling, they did more than cast a shadow on the futures of people affiliated with them.

They also cast a deeper shadow on the future of shopping centers that had relied on them to fill space.

Last week 57 people, including Fraternal Order of Police President Nelson Cuba and Jacksonville lawyer Kelly Mathis, were arrested during a racketeering investigation of the gaming centers.

Authorities say that the centers, which were run by the non-profit Allied Veterans of the World, donated only 2 percent of the $290 million in profits toward struggling veterans over the past five years and that much of the money was pocketed by officials with the organization.

But the vacancies that the shuttered gaming centers will leave in shopping centers also point to those centers' struggles in an era in which many people shop online or flock to town center style settings.

A GRAY AREA

According to the Times-Union, more than a dozen of the gaming centers owned by Allied Veterans in middle and lower-class neighborhoods were closed during raids last week.

Adam Putnam, commissioner of agriculture and consumer services, told Reuters that the centers were always "operating within a gray area of the law."

And what that says is that more energy and creativity ought to be put into redeveloping shopping centers so they don't have to rely on operations that carry that kind of uncertainty.

What the scandal also says is that we are paying for the shortsightedness of the past, said James Howard Kunstler, author of "The Geography of Nowhere" and other books that decry urban sprawl and point out the social and cultural problems that it spawned.

"Sometimes, societies make bad decisions and bad choices," Kunstler told me. …

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