Florida's Ban on Slot-Like Games Shuts Hundreds of Parlors

florida ban internet gambling charity scandal jennifer carroll
Alan Diaz/APGladys Fundora plays a sweepstake game at the New York New York Arcade in Hialeah, Fla., on Thursday. Gaming centers also known as "Internet cafes" are now illegal in Florida.
By GARY FINEOUT

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Up to 1,000 strip-mall parlors where people can play slot-like computer games became illegal Wednesday in Florida, with the governor signing a ban on the heels of a federal investigation into a charity that authorities say was an illegal gambling front.

The law took effect immediately after Gov. Rick Scott signed it, roughly a month after nearly 60 people were arrested in connection with the racketeering investigation into Allied Veterans of the World. The arrests prompted the resignation of former Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll, who did consulting work for the group but hasn't been accused of wrongdoing.

The Legislature and governor acted with dizzying speed, leaving many questions as to the law's impact and how the centers known as Internet cafes would react. The ban is also expected to directly affect adult amusement arcades that cater to senior citizens.

Scott, who quietly signed the bill behind closed doors, called the ban the "right thing to do for our state."

Enforcing the ban will fall to local authorities. But some arcade operators said they weren't taking any chances.

Johnny Figueria, manager of the Tropicana Bingo & Arcade in Hialeah, said nearly 100 machines were shut down Tuesday as a precaution until he and other arcade managers understood the law.

"This law will affect everyone here," he said in Spanish. "There are people who come here in the morning to play bingo and then stay later to play the machines until their son comes to pick them up, so they won't be home alone."

Four employees were told not to show up for work Wednesday, and bingo manager Kenia Landa said she was worried she may lose her job.

"I feel so sorry, including me, because I don't know what is going to happen," she said. "The only support I have is this job."

During a brief question-and-answer session with reporters, Scott brushed aside questions as to jobs that could be lost by the new ban. Scott, who has made job creation his primary focus, instead said legislators should pass tax-cut measures he is pushing this year.

But Scott could soon have another legal battle on his hands.

Bruce Rogow, a well-known constitutional lawyer in Florida, met behind closed doors with more than 100 arcade operators in Pompano Beach.

"I think that there is probably no choice but to file a lawsuit," said Rogow.


Scott and legislators acted in the wake of the Allied Veterans of the World charity scandal. The charity -- which was affiliated with dozens of storefront parlors -- was accused of running a $290 million illegal gambling business that directed most of the proceeds into its owners' pockets.

The parlors started sprouting around the state within the last six years amid debates over their legality. The game makers argued they were legal sweepstakes because there is a predetermined number of winners, similar to a McDonald's Monopoly game or Coca-Cola cap contest. Unlike slot machines run at casinos, the operations were not heavily regulated.

Most of the parlors sell customers Internet or phone time, allowing them to check email and surf the Web on computers. Instead, however, many customers play games like "Captain Cash" and "Lucky Shamrocks," and players are encouraged to spend more to win more, investigators said.

Existing law allows slot machines in casinos run by the Seminole Tribe and at dog and horse tracks in South Florida. The new law makes it clear that machines that simulate slot machines or other casino type games are illegal elsewhere in the state.

The legislation also puts limits on sweepstakes and says arcades cannot award gift cards or cash to winners. It also says arcades are supposed to have coin-operated games that involve an element of skill, not casino-style games of chance.

Gale Fontaine, president of the Florida Arcade Association, called on officials to enforce the law equitably. Her organization said the law would also outlaw machines operated at bowling alleys, airports and skating rinks.

Supporters of the law, however, said lawmakers were clarifying gray areas in the state's gambling law that had not kept pace with new technology.

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Associated Press reporter Suzette Laboy contributed to this story from Hialeah, Fla.

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Follow Gary Fineout on Twitter: http://twitter.com/fineout


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IRVING

My brilliant governor whose election rallying cry, "let's get to work ", with the stroke of his pen put 16,000 people out of work, including me, and left 100 times that number of seniors with no place to go. Why, is the question of the day, because last November we voted for casino gambling in Palm Beach County and because there are many billions of dollars that are waiting for a shot at the wealthiest area in the country and want these " mom and pop " operators, the backbone of the American economy, out of the way before they come in with their truckloads of cash. The geniuses in Tallahassee, suddenly saw fit to lump all gaming into a single group and legislate an established industry out of business. Florida is still part of the United States of America where people know how to fight.

April 12 2013 at 7:18 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
redracer47

We visited a very nice one in Cape Coral. I won a little money and never spent as much as I do at an Indian casino. They had free beverages and snacks. Were very clean. The staff was very courteous and helpful. We even had a birthday party there. Not sure why this is not allowed. They could have been just regulated, like everything else in our world.

April 12 2013 at 6:12 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
tlgentry

Can you say RACKETEERING?!

April 12 2013 at 12:58 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
kesubrma

It Really Gave The Old Timers Something To Look Forward To.

April 11 2013 at 9:03 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
peggi

I know who I won't be voting for.

April 11 2013 at 8:24 PM Report abuse -3 rate up rate down Reply
rob12p

I have no problems with these types of places being closed. I do take issue with the speed at which it took place. A few bad apples in the basket doesnt spoil all. What should have been done to be fair to all the honest cafe's was inform all that these type of set ups will become illegal as of January 1, 2014. That would have given business owners a fair amount of time to close up. By shutting them down with no notice you have taken away thousands of jobs and put thousands of people on unemployment and/or welfare and other social help. Also the owners of the establishments have been seriously financially whacked and for the honest ones which is probably a large majority of owners they have been shafted by the state. The governor of Florida isnt very good and not just in this matter. I look forward to him being voted out next election as I plan to move back down there but I dont want to move there until this clown is out of office.

April 11 2013 at 8:19 PM Report abuse -3 rate up rate down Reply
jb26

today 16,00.00 people lost there job in fl. today. there is no work here,so there screwed. get rid of
bingo also. they pay cash also. these places were good for us older people. make the age has to be 55 to go in and play.

April 11 2013 at 7:34 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
rjen164497

Great. These were sleezy rip-off faux casinos. They gave seniors crappy junk food and let them play video games. They were never regulated and controlled by scam artists. it was a new way for the "BINGO BUNNIES" to get ripped off.

April 11 2013 at 6:28 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
Sandy*

They do have Casino's, don't they?

April 11 2013 at 5:38 PM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down Reply
leoganz

Ohhhhhhhhhh the horror!!!!!

April 11 2013 at 5:16 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply