MANATEE -- When Larry Peterson drove to Jack's Café last week, the 70-year-old noticed there were no other cars in the parking lot. He said he knew immediately the bingo hall at 6500 14th St. W., unit B, Bradenton, was closed. Still, he walked up to the entrance for confirmation. A sign said it was shut down.
"Here we go again," Peterson said he thought.
Peterson is upset about a recent Manatee County Sheriff's Office investigation that resulted in the temporary closures of multiple locations throughout the county.
"I can't understand why the government has to step in and tell me how to spend my money," Peterson said. "What is gambling? I'm playing cards at the dog track maybe once a week, and I could lose or win as much as I want to, and that's not gambling? Something is wrong."
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More than $117,000 and more than 500 illegal gambling devices were seized recently at multiple locations, the sheriff's office announced Monday. Since January, the sheriff's office has been investigating alleged illegal gambling operations throughout the county in conjunction with the State Attorney's Of
fice and the Florida Illegal Gaming Task Force.
The undercover investigations led to executing six search warrants at the following locations:
The Club, 7616 Lockwood Ridge Road, Sarasota, Feb. 27.
Jack's Café, 6500 14th St. W. Unit B, Bradenton, Feb. 27.
Bingoland, 6832 14th St. W., Bradenton, Thursday.
Orange Blossom Bingo, 445 Cortez Road, Bradenton, Thursday.
Mt. Vernon Bingo, 9516 Kingston Drive , Bradenton, Thursday.
North Blossom Bingo, 8223 U.S. 301 N., Parrish, Thursday.
Peterson, a retired restaurant and bar owner, said he goes to Jack's Café once or twice a week.
"It's relaxing," he said. "I like to gamble a little bit."
A year ago, he won $600. Sheer luck is all it is, Peterson added.
"Sure, it's not good if you waste away all your money. It's similar to drugs," he said, adding it is up to an individual's discretion. "I'm sorry, that's my decision what I want to do -- not the government's."
Jerry Baden, 72, described local bingo halls as "meeting places for seniors."
"We can go over, spend a little money, have a lot of fun, meet our neighbors, get fed," the Bradenton resident said. "That breaks up the days. When you're retired, you gotta have hobbies."
Baden, who frequents a local bingo hall with his 70-year-old wife, Joyce Baden, said they can't go to the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Tampa every day.
At these "little places," as Baden calls them, people can enjoy themselves. Baden said he knows a widower who spends all day at one hall. A woman in a walker is dropped off by her daughter often and spends two to three hours there.
"It gives them something to do," Baden said. "I'm just upset at the higher-ups who can't see what they're doing to the seniors. To me, it's another marker to the senior citizens."
Amaris Castillo, law enforcement/island reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7051. Follow her on Twitter @AmarisCastillo.