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Senate committee unanimously approves Internet cafe ban, closing loopholes

Despite aggressive pleas from senior citizens and veterans groups, the Florida Senate moved closer to outlawing all slot machine-like games at Internet cafes, Miami's machinitas and South Florida's adult arcades that had expanded into a multi-million dollar industry in the face of legislative inaction.

"I think we let it get out of hand and I think we’re bringing it back now to what the original intent was,'' said Sen. John Thrasher, the sponsor of the SB 1030, which was unanimously approved by the Senate Rules Committee Tuesday. He said it will be placed on the Senate calendar for a floor vote on Thursday and he will move to take up the House bill that passed lawt week and send it to the governor.

The measure is a swift response to a federal and state corruption probe that has led to the arrest of 57 people associated with Allied Veterans of Florida, the chain of gaming centers that purported to operate a charity but which police say was a gambling and money laundering scam.

The indictments led to the resignation of Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll, who had once worked as a consultant for Allied Veterans, and has resulted in Florida lawmakers, who had been warned by law enforcement for years about the illegal machines, the act quickly to shut down the industry.

"What this is really about is gambling,'' said Thrasher, R-St. Augustine. "Unfortunately, we have let things slip through the cracks and let things go on for too long.''

The bill updates the definition of slot machines, clarifies that exceptions for sweepstakes must be incidental games -- not continuous play; coin-operated games must involve an element of skill and players are limited to prizes valued at 75 cents and may not be accumulated over time. A nearly identical bill (HB 155) passed the House 108-7 last week.

Thrasher said the bill is intended to clarify existing law and not shut down adult or children's arcades, such as Dave & Busters and Chuck e Cheese. He vowed that he "will not back down" from his position that if the machines are illegal now, they will not be carved into a loophole.

"What we're trying to do is make sure our kids are not exposed to slot machines,'' he said. "In my opinion, the bill does not keep charities from conducting drawings and raffles -- just as they have been able to do for years. If they -- because of existing loopholes in the statutes -- have moved into areas they should not have, they will have to adjust.''

But dozens of players traveled to Tallahassee to plead with the committee to exempt the gaming machines used at adult arcades and the Florida Adult Arcade and Bingo Association hired a public relations firm to help them press their case.

"I'm here to day to preserve the existence of arcades as they are today,'' said Anita Silverman, 82, of Delray Beach. She said she has gone to the Atlantic Arcade in Delray Beach twice and liked it. "Saturday night is the lonliest night in the week,'' she told the committee, noting that she has been a widow for 18 years. "So please consider us. It is an outlet for us."

Ledia Herrera, 69, of Hialeah, told the committee she doesn't go to the local senior arcade to gamble but to socialize. "We don't spend much money. We just have a good time,'' she said. "We have lunch. We have dinner. We celebrate our birthday there. If they close, a lot of seniors are going to be very lonely."

Experts say the machines are computerize slot machines that are rigged by owners with no guaranteed payout or customer protections. Owners of the machines counter that they are games of skill and do not operate like slot machines. They warn that the legislation will ruin the business model for their entertainment centers and close the door to thousands of seniors.Gale Fontaine, of Lighthouse Point, who is president of Gale Fontaine Amusements scolded the committee for turning their backs on the senior citizens who elected them to office.

"All of you are here because of them and none of you understand it,'' she said, noting that seniors "fought and saved our country" and yet many of them suffer mental illness "sitting home alone.

"This is somewhere for them to go, to be with people of their own age," she said. "We give our food away for free. We them with a place to go to a safe place -- no drinking, no smoking. If they wanted to gamble, they'd go to a casino."

Sen. Eleanor Sobel, D-Hollywood, urged the committee to consider carving out a loophole that would exclude the adult arcades, which have been operating gaming machines under a 28-year-old provision in state law. 

“They’re a legitimate business and there’s unintended consequences by putting them in a different category,’’ she said, to applause from the audience. “If there needs to be more regulation on this group, so be it.”

 Sen. Bill Galvano called it a “clarification bill” and noted that the ideas are not new but “the problem is the interpretation has become difficult,’’ 

Sen. Jeremy Ring, D-Margate, who represents many arcades in his district said he was torn about supporting the bill but was disappointed the industry failed to agree to regulations before now.

“When I brought it up, instead of coming to me and saying 'let's work together,' it has been vehemently opposed,'' Ring said. "The opposition shut down my office for a whole week.…I have a problem with the individuals driving this industry.’’

 

 

Comments

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Sandy Hoff

Just remember, these are for the most, part minority owned businesses and have occupational licenses in their chosen counties. REGULATE DON'T ELIMINATE!!! No one can exclude any race from owning and operating a business that is operating legally. God bless the American Indians but, they have been more than compensated for their loss. We all vote. Stop the political pandering in Florida!

gullenc@yahoo.com

they want to ban cafes but legalize pot

Ray

If the corruption is in the Allied Veterens Internet cafes then sobeit, close them all down, but why are they grouping a tax paying industry that doesn't harm anyone and operates legally? What a waste of money. How about spending time on getting all the criminals off the streets? I'd rather see my tax dollars going to something that will protect myself and my family, these arcades hurt no one!!!

Johnson

I have proof that one of the Gainesville cafes rips off their customers. They are all corrupt an should be shut down

LUCKY

The gaming centers _ which have been estimated at about 1,000 across the state _ present a “predatory environment,” particularly for Floridians who have a gambling problem, Baxley said. “(They) can’t go to a grocery store or can’t go to the bank without driving by one of these.”
.........................................................PLEEEEEEEEEEAAAASE..WHAT AN IDIOT..YOU CAN'T GO ANYWHERE
IN FLORIDA BARELY, THAT DOES NOT SELL TONS OF SCRATCH OFF GAMES OR HAVE LOTTERY MACHINES..GAMBLING IS GAMBLING. FOR THE POSTER TALKING ABOUT GETTING RIPPED OFF..SORRY ABOUT THE VETS, THAT WAS WRONG..BUT..I SPENT A LOT OF TIME AT AN ALLIED INTERNET SWEEPTSTAKES..AND WON OFTEN WITH RELATIVELY LITTLE MONEY..THIS TIME LAST YEAR I WON 3,000 IN 2 1/2 DAYS..I STARTED WITH $60. I TAKE CARE OF AN ELDERLY PARENT AND WORK..I AM SINGLE..I STOPPED FOR HOT COFFEE AFTER WORK..OR IF I WAS ABLE TO GET OUT IN THE EVENINGS. IT WAS MY ESCAPE..AS WELL AS MANY OTHERS..ITS MY $$ IF I WANT TO GAMBLE, AND IF OTHER FLORIDIANS WANT TO GAMBLE..WHO ARE THE "ELECTED" OFFICIALS TO SAY NO? lET THEM REGULATE AND GET A PIECE OF THE PIE..BUT AS IT STANDS THEY HAVE TO WORK QUICK NOW..SO THEY CAN HAVE BETTER AMO TO CONVICT THE ALLIED GROUP.

LUCKY

OH...BY THE WAY..I HAVE WON NOTHING IN THE FLORIDA LOTTERY GAMES..BUT I AM SURE MY DONATIONS MADE IT TO THE
EDUCATION SYSTEM..YEAH RIGHT..THE STATE OF FLORIDA RIPS OFF THE CITIZENS OF FLORIDA ON A DAILY BASIS..IT IS ALL ABOUT THE MONEY..YOU COULD BE BORN AND RAISED HERE..BUT EVERYONE IS REALLY A TOURIST RIGHT? WE SURE DO PAY THE DUES RIGHT ALONG WITH THOSE TOURIST..DONT WE?

Bob

You all are missing the issue...They ARE rigged machines and need to be closed. Where are all of the GA meetings for those who need help!?

stephanie

This is AMERICA the land of the FREE, we should be able to spend our money on what ever makes us HAPPY. No one has the right to tell me what to do with my money. The scratch off lottery tickets now they are a rip off, I can buy 10 tickets off the same run and not even get a free ticket, n the money is not going to education.So I stopped playing lottery, that is my choice. Give me the right of being an American and to make my own choices. Thank you

Steve Norton

Even if Florida approved the games played at Internet Cafes, with over 1,000 locations how do you police keeping underage gamblers from betting? Suppose the State were to determine that the games were based on skill, they should still be kept away from those persons under 21 or 18. The proper oversight, that would be included in any Legislation authorizing casino gaming, is not present in Internet cafes. And absent any separate tax included for cafe games, their is no funding to provide separate oversight. Oversight that might have prevented 98% of the charity funds raised for our military, ending up in the pockets of the organizers.

MARIA TAYLOR

LET THEM SHUT DOWN THE NUDE PARLORS WHICH GIVE LAP DANCES TO THE MEN, MOSTLY MARRIED MEN WHOSE MARRIAGES BREAK UP BECAUSE OF IT. HOW ABOUT STRIP JOINTS WHERE WOMEN WALK ABOUT NAKED AND HAVE SEX WITH PATRONS, IS THAT ILLEGAL. MY COUSIN WAS KILLED WHO WORKED IN A STRIP JOINT, BUT I NEVER HEARD OF ANYONE KILLED IN AN INTERNET CAFE. OR ARE BRIBES THE REASON THEY ARE STILL OPEN, DO THE COPS JUST PASS THEM BY BECAUSE OF THEIR TAKE. IF YOU WANT MONEY FROM IT, JUST HAVE THE INTERNET CAFES TAX THE MONEY THEY TAKE IT OR ISN'T IT ENOUGH FOR ALL YOU SENATORS AND POLITICIANS WHO LINE THEIR POCKETS.

arcade employee

close the arcades, they are ilegal, most of them pay cash if you now the owner

Political_Junkie

It’s one thing to set up a shady gambling operation, it’s another to falsely pretend you are helping our nation’s veterans. I hope Rick Scott distances himself from any LG replacement who had anything to do with these creeps.

tim

The worst thing is that it's robbing from the Indian casinos Just when they're starting to get ahead in life.

D

I am vehemently opposed to the closing of gaming arcades -- a source of entertainment and social opportunities for many, including a large proportion of senior citizens. These arcades are no more harmful than bingo parlors, race tracks and -- yes -- even the Florida lottery. The proliferation of arcades encourages competition, which helps to keep them reasonably fair to the players. They also provide employment and revenue to the state. And that leads me to my primary concern: what appears to be an absurd rationale of closing hundreds of businesses at a time when Florida is still experiencing a struggling economy -- as well as putting thousands of employees out of work and onto the unemployment rolls. Hasn't the Florida legislation considered the significant impact the bill would have on the state's economy? I thought the Republican party was pro-business -- and yet a Republican senator sponsored an anti-small-business bill with predictable and adverse trickle-down economic consequences as a result of a scandal in Tallahassee that has nothing to do with arcades. It's especially crucial now that the high season is over and nearly every business has enough challenges to keep afloat during the summer months. Perhaps Senator John Thrasher and his co-sponsors are hoping seniors and other constituents will forget this highly unpopular decision during the next election. Yet I have heard many say they won't forget...and neither will I. C'mon Gov. Scott -- please don't sign the bill that will shut down so many small businesses and put thousands out of work based on some nebulous moral concept. Aren't we seeing enough vacant store fronts now -- or haven't you noticed?

Margaret simone

This is so sad for senior people that cannot travel far. This was fun more so than Lottery tickets that hardly win. This is going to isolate many of our senior people. I think it could be regulated most people are happy with Gift Cet.

HP

Very good,grett,close all arcades.THE WAY THE MACHINES THE OWNER CHANGE YOU NEVER CAN WINE,THE POOR SINIORS ARE THE BIGEST LOOSER,THAT IS THE TRUTE.LET THEM CLOSE.

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