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Politics

House Moves To Ban Internet Cafes

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Gambling machine at an internet cafe.  (CBS4)

Gambling machine at an internet cafe. (CBS4)

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TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami/NSF) – In the wake of a scandal which prompted the resignation of the state’s lieutenant governor, the House is moving full steam ahead on a measure which would ban internet cafes and adult arcades.

A little more than a week after Jennifer Carroll resigned due to ties with a group at the center of a multi-state racketeering and money laundering investigation, the Florida House has advanced HB 155 to a final vote, expected on Friday morning.

The Senate may vote on a companion bill (SB 1030) next week.

The House approved a similar proposal last year, but the measure never reached the Senate floor.

Gov. Rick Scott said earlier this week he wanted to review the legislation before deciding if he would it into law.

Opponents of the proposal argued Thursday there could be unintended consequences in rapidly moving the ban forward.

House members rejected a proposal by Rep. Jim Waldman, D-Coconut Creek, for the bill to go before a tax and finance committee to consider any potential fiscal impacts of closing the businesses – possibly putting 1,300 people out of work.

The bill was backed by the House Gaming Committee, with Waldman the lone opponent, in its only committee review on March 15.

Waldman added that businesses such as Chuck E. Cheese and Dave & Buster’s could get entangled in the legislation if the amusements they use are redefined by a local government or court as “games of chance.”

“A lot of people are going to be caught in this and I really think we ought to slow this down a bit,” Waldman said.

Rep. Elaine Schwartz, D-Hollywood, said the bill appears “overly broad” and could reach Wall Street investors “because that too is a game.”

““This could really apply to someone betting on the stock market, betting with others on (whether) stocks go up, down or short,” Schwartz said.

Rep. Carlos Trujillo, R-Miami, the sponsor of the House bill, rejected both arguments, saying the bill clarifies the existing law for law enforcement, as the electronic games used by the strip center businesses have always really been illegal under Florida law.

Trujillo compared the cafes and adult arcades to marijuana grow houses.

“A person who gets an occupational license and decides to operate an illegal marijuana grow house just because they’re complying with a Department of Agriculture administrative requirement doesn’t give you the authority to run an illegal gaming house,” Trujillo said.

Trujillo added that the law will not hinder companies such as Chuck E. Cheese and Dave & Buster’s, which offer prizes for amusements defined as games of skill.

The bill also redefines the loophole that the cafes and adult arcades have used in declaring their machines “games of skill” rather than games of chance, attempting to make sure that companies such as McDonald’s can continue to use giveaway games.

While legislators have been critical of the arcades for several years, the bill has rapidly made its way through both sides of the Legislature in response to a statewide investigation into alleged illegal gaming by a charity, Allied Veterans of the World. The probe has already led to 57 arrests. The investigation also resulted inCarroll, who had consulted for Allied while in the Legislature, to resign on March 12.

The News Service of Florida contributed to this report.

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