Florida’s Internet Cafe Ban-Winners and Losers

Florida legislators voted overwhelmingly to ban the internet cafes that dotted the state’s land scape in recent years. The house of cards behind the cafes came tumbling down resulting in dozens of arrests and the forced resignation of the lieutenant governor. On April 4th Florida Governor Rick Scott signed the bill which gives law enforcement agencies more tools to put an end to gambling in strip malls and arcades. State Senator John Thrasher, one of the sponsors of the bill, told reporters “It took a serious event, a very serious event, to bring attention to what we needed to do.

Legislators felt the pressure after an investigation into a veteran’s ‘charity’ showed that the $290 million gambling business was a front and veterans received very little of the money generated by the slot like games. Arcades argued that they complied with the law by adding games that required a ‘skill'; in this case a button which stopped the slot like spinning reels. The bill’s supporters said the games are far from skill based. Changes in the bill will require arcades to have coin operated machines and ban gift cards as prizes.

Gail Fontaine, president of the Florida Arcade Association, put out a statement that said he group was “disappointed and disheartened” by the passage of the legislation. In the statement Fontaine said “Seniors and children are being punished despite following the rules and providing a safe place for entertainment,” she said. “It’s highly disappointing to see the Legislature punish our seniors for the misdeeds of Internet cafe operators. We are not gambling establishments. We are nothing more than social clubs that provide fun and stimulating games to keep our patrons active and happy.”

As with any government action there will be winners and losers. Obviously the losers in this case were arcade and cafe owners but who wins? The Seminole gambling lobby group and their casinos are the big winners after the tribes main “competition” was eliminated for good. Recently an attempt was made to broker a deal of behalf of the Seminoles to legalize casino gambling which would be funded by Las Vegas investors.

The reaction to the bill was mixed but many seniors voiced their displeasure over the new ban on cafes. Florida resident Glenn Aaron told reporters “Let’s look at the truth. The state of Florida runs a gambling operation called the lottery. Everybody knows you won’t win the lottery. Little cafés gave out prizes; you could win at the café. Lottery sales were down. Florida went after the cafes to protect their gambling operation.”