A ban on gambling-parlor “internet cafes” that includes comprehensive language defining a wide range of electronic devices as “slot machines” cleared the state’s Senate Rules Committee and is being brought up for a full Senate vote, perhaps as early as today.
The Florida House recently passed a similar measure on a 108-7 vote, with the bill expected to be picked up when introduced by its primary Senate sponsor, Sen. John Thrasher (R-St. Augustine).
The proposed legislation, now known as SB 1030, continues Florida’s rapid response to a scandal involving a major chain of the low-scale gambling outlets. Legislators are seeking to wipe out the storefront gambling operations, which exploit loopholes in the state’s gambling laws.
The broad definitions in the bill could possibly endanger all sorts of electronic gaming not directly targeted by the bill, from online poker to fantasy sports and social-network games, and even the arcade-style games found in family entertainment centers.
The internet cafes, which offer video slots and similar games, were at the center of a recent scandal involving purported charity organization Allied Veterans of the World. Allied, which operated 49 of the outlets throughout Florida, allegedly diverted all but $6 million of approximately $300 million it generated to its own owners instead of to the charities it claimed to serve.
The resulting crackdown has led to 57 arrests, including several prominent officials, and caused the resignation of Florida Lieutenant Governor Jennifer Carroll, due to her business ties with the Allied Veterans group.
The move to ban the gambling establishments has drawn protests from seniors groups, several of which are planning to send customers of the internet cafes to Tallahassee to argue against the bill in hopes of creating an exception for so-called adult arcades, which cater specifically to seniors.
Under both versions of the bill, prizes are limited to a maximum value of 75 cents, which would shutter even the least expensive of the cafes, the low-budget machinitas which are common throughout south Florida.