TAMPA — House Bill 155 was designed to sweep the state of illegal gambling cafes, and it worked. Internet cafes from Jacksonville to Key West have closed.
But the law's wide net appears to have caught some unintended prey: restaurants, bowling alleys and skating rinks. Chuck E. Cheese's and Dave & Buster's. Even Disney World may be a violator.
Experts say the language of the new law throws nearly all arcade games in the state of Florida into a gray area, leaving many business owners worried their games might not be legal. And to make matters worse, there appears to be no state agency where they can get a definitive answer to these questions.
"It's a very confusing thing," said Anthony Perrone, owner of Pin Chasers. Each of his three bowling centers in the Tampa Bay area has an arcade.
"Our guard is up and we are watching the situation," he said. "We will do what's asked of us."
Rep. Carlos Trujillo, R-Miami, a co-sponsor of the bill to outlaw Internet cafes, told the Tampa Bay Times he believes either the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation or the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services is in charge of enforcement. But officials at each of those agencies say that's wrong.
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement said the law is the responsibility of the State Attorney's Office. The state attorney told the Times to talk to local law enforcement.
One possible reason for the confusion: The ban on Internet cafes came into being quickly in the wake of an investigation that led to the resignation of former Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll, who had ties to an Internet gaming organization authorities said was masquerading as a veterans charity. Lawmakers reacted with lightning speed.
"This bill was railroaded through the Legislature so fast — I mean warp speed — that there was no time taken to understand how this was being done," said Michael Wolf, an attorney for the Florida Arcade and Bingo Association. His group has filed a lawsuit challenging the law.
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Brian Cherry is a partner at United Skates of America, a skating rink and arcade in Tampa that has been in business for more than a half-century. He has 33 arcade games.
"I don't want to be doing anything that's not legal," Cherry said.
And there's the rub. While the law targeted Internet cafes, it also included rules that have existed for decades, but apparently were never enforced:
• All arcade games must be coin-operated, which means games operated by a swipe card are illegal.
• Prizes per game can't be worth more than 75 cents.
• Arcades must have at least 50 machines. Experts said this was created years ago to outlaw backroom gambling machines.
But the biggest concern is a new stipulation that requires all "amusement games or machines" to be games of "skill."
That word — skill — "from a legal standpoint, is a huge, huge change," said Marc Dunbar, an adjunct law professor at Florida State University and a lawyer who focuses on gaming and governmental law.
The law says machines cannot be "casino-style games in which the outcome is determined by factors unpredictable by the player or games in which the player may not control the outcome of the game through skill."
What exactly is a "casino-style" machine?
Dunbar thinks any game that is not purely skill-based, such as air hockey, basketball or Skee-Ball, is in question.
"Was that what the Legislature intended? I doubt it," he said. "But the words on the page are the words on the page."
Dave & Buster's, a restaurant-arcade with locations throughout Florida, told the Times it is working with law enforcement to understand the law.
"As we understand it, this legislation is not intended to target restaurant and entertainment companies such as Dave & Buster's, Disney and others who operate games of skill," the company said in a statement.
Chuck E. Cheese's, with 26 locations in Florida, said it is taking steps "to ensure that none of our games violate these regulations; which, in any event, we believe are not intended to apply to our business."
On Wednesday at a Clearwater Chuck E. Cheese's, Shawn Lane played Skee-Ball while babysitting a 4-year-old. Lane started with $10 worth of tokens.
"He loves it so much, and I came here all the time as a kid," said Lane, 35, clutching a plastic baggie of tickets. "It'd be absolutely stupid to make it illegal. This is good, American fun."
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Rep. Trujillo acknowledges the law casts a wide net. But Skee-Ball is fine, he said. So are hunting games and driving games.
"Is there one possible game that might not be in compliance? Maybe," he said. "But it's not going to shut down Chuck E. Cheese's."
Unless the language is changed, it appears local law enforcement is in charge of interpreting the law. Hillsborough sheriff's spokesman Larry McKinnon says business owners should contact the agency with any questions.
But this isn't a priority, he said.
"We are not going to be out running through Chuck E. Cheese's or school carnivals looking for violators," he said. "I don't think that was the intent of the law."
Times researcher John Martin and staff writer Danielle Paquette contributed to this report.