Make us your home page

Gov. Scott to sign bill today that bans Internet cafes

The bill outlawing Internet cafes is a response to an inquiry into illegal gambling at cafes run by the Allied Veterans of the World.


The bill outlawing Internet cafes is a response to an inquiry into illegal gambling at cafes run by the Allied Veterans of the World.

TALLAHASSEE — For Rick Scott, the "jobs" governor, the bill he will sign today to ban Internet cafes is as awkward as it gets.

The measure is guaranteed to put people out of work and, if the issue hadn't come up, he would likely still have a lieutenant governor.

From Gadsden to Monroe counties, Internet cafe and adult arcade operators say an estimated 14,000 people will be forced into the unemployment lines as a result of the Legislature's prohibition on casino game look-alikes.

Nonetheless, Scott said Tuesday, he will sign the bill and it will take effect immediately.

But the resilient industry, accustomed to living on the edge, is not ready to retire.

Many arcade operators, who were in business long before the upstart Internet cafes came into town, are preparing to hang on by reconfiguring their machines to accommodate the new law or challenge the law in court.

"We are currently working on a package to retrofit all machines to be able to comply with new laws," Shawn Mosayov of E and D Trading, a supplier in Hollywood, wrote on a Facebook page.

Gaming law experts say the retrofit could involve using tokens worth $1 to $20 and allowing players to collect prizes using a debit or swipe card. Others may offer pseudo prizes — such as giant teddy bears — that can be traded for cash at a shop next door.

"We're trying really hard to … modify the game to be in compliance with the new law,'' said Pierre Marcoux, vice president of sales and marketing at Electromatic International, a machine manufacturer based in Hollywood. "To bring that into true compliance with the law it might not be practical and I don't know if it will still be lucrative.''

HB 155 is a response to a three-year federal and state investigation into illegal gambling at Internet cafes run by the Allied Veterans of the World. Former Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll, who once worked for Allied Veterans, resigned, she said, to avoid becoming a distraction.

Enforcing the law will be the job of local law enforcement across the state. In Hillsborough County, Col. Donna Lusczynski of the Sheriff's Office said that her office will "give a warning and sufficient time to comply before we take criminal action just to be fair."

The new law limits arcades to operate only games of skill, limits prizes to 75 cents per win and prohibits players from accumulating points.

Marc Dunbar, a lobbyist for Gulfstream racetrack who helped write the law, said that if the industry is able to find a work-around, it may come in the form of an electronic version of a skill game, such as tic-tac-toe, chess or checkers. Players could play eight to 10 lines of games, saying each is its own game, allowing the player to win up to $7.50.

Because the law requires that each game must start and stop, and be activated only by the insertion of another coin, the arcades may also have to adjust their swipe card technology to keep track of each spin, and that would slow down game play dramatically, Dunbar said.

In addition to revamping the machines, the industry is mounting a push to file a lawsuit against the state. Arcade manufacturers, which are allowed to operate games only if there are a minimum of 50 games in play, are urging their operators and patrons to file complaints against retailers and restaurants that operate similar games but provide far fewer machines.

"Everybody is just waiting to see what they can do,'' said John Sasso, sales manager for Electromatic International.

Sasso has sent out a call to all arcade owners to scout out any illegal games operating in retail stores and children's entertainment centers, such as Denny's, Golden Corral, Wal-Mart, Chuck E Cheese and Dave & Busters, take a picture, and report it to police.

"It is sad to say that most locations are now closed due to HB 155,'' Sasso wrote in a note to arcade owners. "But it is not over. There are still several legal maneuvers that need to happen before burying the key."

Karen Kopp, owner of two arcades in Fort Myers and Naples, said she has been asked to donate $4,000 to a legal defense fund to fight the new law.

Kopp spent Tuesday at a farewell party at the Fort Myers senior arcade she started seven years ago, called Vegas Experience. Each of her arcades employs 15 people and she has told her staff to file for unemployment starting Friday. Kopp said she is closing her arcades today, when the law takes effect, because she doesn't want to risk being arrested.

Miami Herald staff writer Marc Caputo and Times staff writer Bill Varian contributed to this report.

Gov. Scott to sign bill today that bans Internet cafes 04/09/13 [Last modified: Tuesday, April 9, 2013 11:31pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Tampa Bay among top 25 metro areas with fastest growing economies

    Economic Development

    Tampa Bay had the 24th fastest growing economy among 382 metro areas in the country for 2016. According to an analysis by the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, Tampa Bay's gross domestic product, or GDP, increased 4.2 percent from 2015 to 2016 to hit $126.2 billion.

    Tampa Bay had the 24th fastest growing economy in the country for 2016. Rentals were one of the areas that contributed to Tampa Bay's GDP growth. Pictured is attorney David Eaton in front of his rental home. 
  2. Tampa Bay cools down to more moderate home price increases

    Real Estate

    The increase in home prices throughout much of the Tampa Bay area is definitely slowing from the torrid rate a year ago.

    This home close to Bayshore Boulevard in Tampa sold for $3.055 million in August, making it Hillsborough County's top sale of the month. [Courtesy of Bredt Cobitz]
  3. With successful jewelry line, Durant High alum Carley Ochs enjoys 'incredible ride'



    As a child Carley Ochs played dress up, draped in her grandmother's furs.

    Founder Carley Ochs poses for a portrait in her Ford Bronco at the Bourbon & Boweties warehouse in Brandon, Fla. on September 19, 2017. Ochs is a Durant High and Florida State University graduate.
  4. At Menorah Manor, planning paid off during Irma

    Nursing Homes

    ST. PETERSBURG — Doris Rosenblatt and her husband, Frank, have lived in Florida all of their lives, so they know about hurricanes.

    Raisa Collins, 9, far left, works on a craft project as Certified Nursing Assistant Shuntal Anthony holds Cassidy Merrill, 1, while pouring glue for Quanniyah Brownlee, 9, right, at Menorah Manor in St. Petersburg on Sept. 15. To help keep its patients safe during Hurricane Irma, Menorah Manor allowed employees to shelter their families and pets at the nursing home and also offered daycare through the week. The facility was able to accommodate and feed everyone who weathered the storm there. [LARA CERRI   |   Times]
  5. After Irma, nursing homes scramble to meet a hard deadline

    State Roundup

    TALLAHASSEE — Florida's nursing homes and assisted-living facilities find themselves in an unfamiliar place this week — pushing back against Gov. Rick Scott's administration over new rules that require them to purchase generator capacity by Nov. 15 to keep their residents safe and comfortable in a power …

    In this Sept. 13 photo, a woman is transported from The Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills as patients are evacuated after a loss of air conditioning due to Hurricane Irma in Hollywood. Nine have died and patients had to be moved out of the facility, many of them on stretchers or in wheelchairs. Authorities have launched a criminal investigation to figure out what went wrong and who, if anyone, was to blame. [Amy Beth Bennett | South Florida Sun-Sentinel via AP]