After nabbing two of the country’s most wanted drug lords, the Mexican government has set its sights on its next priority target: pinball machines.
Acting on orders from the Ministry of the Interior (SEGOB), a task force of riot police with shields and Kevlar vests accompanied by state investigators with really sharp pencils raided a string of pharmacies, grocery shops, street vendors and bus stations to seize 520 slot and pinball machines in Mexico City. The crackdown was part of the government's new anti-gambling campaign called "Addiction is Not a Game."
Over the past few days, the cops have hit a total of 17 businesses and arrested four people. The government claims its concerned that so-called "tragamonedas" — or coin-swallowing machines— are rigged to swindle minors out of their hard-earned money. But the government, too, feels cheated because the machines' owners don't pay taxes on their coin-haul.
“Child addiction to these machines can cause school desertion, accompanied by violence for the purpose of getting money and generating false expectations of obtaining economic rewards with little effort,” The Ministry of the Interior said in a press statement.
The ministry did not respond to Fusion’s request for comment.
“There shouldn’t be gaming machines near schools because they prompt children to steal money from their mothers … they start gambling and that leads into other stuff,” said a spokesman for the city's business licensing watchdog (IVEA).
Last month, presidential spokesman Eduardo Sanchez announced a nationwide crackdown on gambling machines. He said the government had already confiscated 25,000 machines, but that there were still some 115,000 illegal slot and pinball machines in use, generating $1.5 million in untaxed revenue. A government hotline was created for citizens to anonymously snitch on store owners giving safe harbor to pinball machines.
But the government's crackdown has been unequal. Cops have been targeting small businesses in poor neighborhoods, while avoiding some of the larger casino conglomerates. A government report shows that in 2013 the ministry inspected less than 12 percent of the 377 legitimate casinos operating nationwide.
The government's pinball crackdown coincides with plans to create a Mexican Las Vegas with 700 new casinos built in touristy areas such as Cancun, Acapulco and Baja California.
Tania Miranda contributed to this report. Photos courtesy of SEGOB and El Universal newspaper.