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Florida Internet Cafe Ban Passes State Senate

A sweeping ban on Florida internet cafes and electronic and physical devices that can be used for gaming purposes passed the Florida Senate late Thursday afternoon on a 36-4 vote.

Internet CafeThe powerful majority for the bill, SB 1030, echoes a similar massive support for the almost-identical House version of the bill, which passed that body last week on a 108-7 count.

With its passage, SB 1030 will quickly be reconciled with the House version (HB 155), with Florida Gov. Rick Scott promising to review the bill’s provisions before signing, though that is expected to happen quickly as well.

Whether or not the bill would actually be voted on Thursday, as promised by the bill’s backers, remained in question until well into the afternoon.  Senate Democratic leaders had threatened a procedural delay that would have pushed the bill’s final vote to early next week.  The Democratic leadership hesitated after listening to complaints about possible lost jobs and the interests of seniors, who populate the small-scale, neighborhood-based cafes, which typically offer a few dozen video-slots games from modest strip-mall storefronts.

The Florida Adult Arcade and Bingo Association, which represents the owners of many of the arcades, even hired a public relations firm to press their case and bused approximately 80 senior customers of several south Florida arcade businesses up to Tallahassee to protest the likely closing of the gaming locations, many hundreds of which have popped up across Florida.

The adult-arcade and internet-cafe market, which has exploited loopholes in Florida gambling laws to spring to life, is a billion-dollar industry in the state, one which will now likely be shuttered.

The quick shutdown comes in reaction to the massive Allied Veterans of the World scandal, in which nearly $300 million was siphoned away from promoted charities and into the pockets of Allied owners instead.

Aa State Sen. James Thrasher, one of the bill’s sponsors, told Tampabay.com, “What we’re trying to do is make sure our kids are not exposed to slot machines.  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.”

The bill’s broad definitions of gambling devices and banning of almost any conceivable form of legal “consideration” (payment or wager) or prize causes concern to many other types of gamers, including online poker players.  Those players fear that despite no mention of online poker in the bill, the inclusion of any electronic devices through which gaming information can be exchanged amounts to a de facto ban.  Other obersvers have suggested the law will have no impact on poker players due to other existing statutes already being in place.

The bill could also threaten other forms of gaming, both online and in physical locations.  Examples range from fantasy sports leagues to social-network games, to the type of coupon-issuing arcade games found at a Brunswick Zone or Chuck E. Cheese.  All would seem to be prohibited under various aspects of the new law, suggesting that the bill’s over-restrictive reach to stomp out the unwanted video-slots storefronts may eventually have unintended consequences.

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