Ban on storefront ‘casinos’ now awaits Senate actionby Dara Kam | March 22nd, 2013
The Florida House overwhelmingly approved a ban on storefront gaming centers less than 10 days after authorities accused Allied Veterans of the World of running a $300 million illegal gambling ring posing as a veterans’ charity.
The multi-state sting also prompted Jennifer Carroll to resign and put the House proposal to ban Internet cafes on a meteoric track to its 108-7 passage Friday morning. A similar measure is also on the fast track in the Senate, which previously had balked at the flat-out ban and instead preferred regulation of the “casinos on the corner” that operate under the state’s “sweepstakes” law.
The main dispute over the ban centers around adult or “senior” arcades authorized under a separate statute but which lawmakers and some law enforcement officials believe also operate illegal gambling houses.
But lawmakers have said they want to shut down any storefront businesses operating electronic games that look or play like slot machines, and both the House and Senate proposals would impact both the Internet cafes and the arcades although the types of machines are different.
Rep. Jim Waldman, D-Coconut Creek, argued that the senior arcades have been operating in the state for three decades and that a Broward County judge dismissed charges against one adult arcade owner accused of running an illegal gambling site.
“So here we are today going to outlaw something that has been legal for the past 30 years has been legal in the state of Florida. If we’re going to do that, what’s next? Because some people have an aversion to alcohol, do we then go back to the days of prohibition and we say you know what, alcohol’s no longer legal in the state of Florida?” Waldman said during a brief floor debate.
Rep. Elaine Schwartz, an elder family law attorney, said the arcades are a harmless way for seniors to spend time.
“I don’t see why we have to jump to making it a crime. It’s something that’s very pleasurable, something that can be enjoyed,” Schwartz, D-Hollywood, said.
But Rep. Carlos Trujillo, the bill sponsor, argued that both types of strip mall gaming centers need to go. Shutting down the estimated 1,000 Internet cafes and possibly hundreds more arcades is possibly “the largest contraction of gaming” in a century, Trujillo, R-Miami, said.
“It sends a message to all the people who are out there stealing from seniors and exploiting the good names of veterans. We don’t want you here in Florida. You weren’t welcome before. You won’t be welcome in the future,” he said.