TALLAHASSEE -- Gov. Rick Scott quietly signed legislation Wednesday that bans Internet cafes, senior arcades and maquinitas in Florida.
“The Legislature did the right thing to crack down on illegal gaming operators," Scott said in a statement.
The Legislature rushed to ban Internet cafes in the wake of a multi-state probe into the group Allied Veterans, an Internet cafe operator who billed itself as a charitable organization for veterans, but only gave about 2 percent of its profits to veterans' groups. The investigation resulted in the resignation of Lieutenant Gov. Jennifer Carroll, who formerly served as a consultant for the group.
But, the move to ban the Internet cafes also caught up senior arcades and maquinitas, most commonly found in South Florida. Operators of senior arcades have said they are trying to keep their doors open and operate in the confines of the new law.
In addition to clarifying that anything that operates remotely like a slot machine is illegal unless the Legislature authorizes it, the measure, HB 155, bans arcades or cafes from giving out gift cards as prizes or from letting arcade patrons use cash or a card to operate machines. They must use change. They also can't build on their winnings past 75 cents.
The move was cheered by anti gambling groups, business lobbying interests and South Florida racinos alike.
"Expanded gambling and Internet cafés is not an economic strategy; it’s a bad bet for Florida," said David Hart, a lobbyist for the Florida Chamber of Commerce.
But law enforcement across the state will now have the task of trying to shut down some of these cafes and arcades.
Detective DeAnna Greenlaw, spokeswoman for the Fort Lauderdale Police Department, said it was "premature" at this point to discuss how it would enforce the ban.
"Prior to developing our strategy for enforcement, we will have to see the law and the elements of the offense,” she said.