Swift action in Senate on storefront gaming center banby Dara Kam | March 18th, 2013
The Florida Senate is moving quickly on a ban on storefronts gaming centers in the aftermath of a multi-state sting that led to nearly 60 arrests and prompted Jennifer Carroll to resign as lieutenant governor last week.
The Senate Gaming Committee unanimously approved the ban despite protests of owners and workers at adult arcades and Internet cafes and Sen. Maria Sachs, D-Delray Beach, who said the measure (SB 1030) casts too wide a net. Several veterans groups and other charities said the measure would also impact their businesses.
Palm Beach County storefronts that serve mainly senior citizens who play games that look like slot machines would be shuttered under the measure that would ban stand-alone businesses (with some exceptions) that run gambling operations and prohibit them from giving out gift cards or accumulating points. Sachs said she intends to try to remove the prohibitions on gift cards or accumulation of points.
Lawmakers aren’t going after “legitimate business models” like Chuck E. Cheese or Dave and Busters, Committee Chairman Garrett Richter, R-Naples, said.
“We are attempting to close down illegitmate businesses that operate and sound like a gambling operation. If it’s a duck, we’re calling it a duck. They are illegal,” he said.
But Gale Fontaine, the head of the Florida Arcade and Bingo Association who owns senior arcades in Broward County, said her strip mall sites are operating under a section of Florida law. Fontaine was acquitted several years ago of charges of running an illegal gambling operation.
“We are not a gaming center,” Fontaine told the panel. “We are the same as a children’s arcade only our children are 80 or 90 years old.”
The arcade operators, who operate under a different section of law than Internet cafes but would be treated the same under both the House and Senate plans, asked lawmakers to impose more regulations instead of shutting them down.
But the bill sponsor, Sen. John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine, said he believes the games are illegal.
“This is about gambling. It’s about a loophole that has been created due to incredibly new technology that frankly has outpaced the will of this Legislature to do something about it,” Thrasher said. “It’s not about regulation. It’s about a policy decision It’s about closing loopholes perceived or otherwise that have been used to create…illegal gambling.”
The measure could go to the floor for a full vote within one week, the bill’s sponsor, Thrasher said. The House version passed its first committee on Friday and is expected to get a floor vote as early as Thursday.