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Florida House votes to ban Internet cafes

After a large turnout for the rally, patrons fill Spinners Sweepstakes Cafe. The rally was organized by Spinners’ owner Terry Kasberg.

OCTAVIO JONES | Times

After a large turnout for the rally, patrons fill Spinners Sweepstakes Cafe. The rally was organized by Spinners’ owner Terry Kasberg.

TALLAHASSEE — Stung by a criminal investigation into an online gambling ring that poured $1.4 million into legislative campaigns, the Florida House on Friday voted 110-6 for a bill aimed at shutting down Internet cafes, adult arcades and Miami's "maquinitas."

"It's a great day in the Florida House," said Rep. Carlos Trujillo, R-Miami, who sponsored the bill. "This will be one of the largest contractions of gaming that we've experienced in our state, certainly in the last 50 or 100 years."

The bill attempts to clarify state law by specifying that charity organizations, adult arcades and for-profit sweepstakes operators may not operate permanent gambling centers using casino-style games that portend to be games of skill.

Opponents blasted the measure as a knee-jerk reaction to a political scandal and warned that the bill will have the unintended consequence of putting hundreds of owners out of business and sending their employees to the unemployment office.

"Here we are today going to outlaw something that for the past 30 years has been legal in the state of Florida," said Rep. Jim Waldman, R-Coconut Creek. "If we're going to do that, what's next?"

State Rep. Betty Reed, D-Tampa, was the lone Tampa Bay legislator to vote against the ban. Rep. Dwight Dudley, D-St. Petersburg, originally voted to oppose the ban but later changed his vote.

The measure, HB 155, comes a week after federal and state officials arrested 57 owners and operators affiliated with Allied Veterans of the World, a St. Augustine chain of 49 Internet cafes, charging them with illegal gambling, money laundering and racketeering.

Authorities say the company collected a combined $300 million in profits since 2007 but paid out only 2 percent — about $6 million — to charities.

The investigation also prompted the resignation of Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll, who consulted for Allied Veterans when she served in the Legislature.

The bill updates the definition of slot machine and spells out that they are prohibited under Florida law, even if they require an element of skill or are linked to a network of machines.

It prohibits arcades from giving away gift cards, prohibits patrons from accumulating points and limits cash prizes to 75 cents per game.

It also clarifies that amusement games used at children's arcades, such as Dave & Buster's or Chuck E. Cheese's, are exempt from the law.

"Internet cafes have been a blight on Florida for many years, and I am proud of the House for once again voting to shut them down," said House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel. "With the recent crackdown on racketeering and fraud, I hope this will be the year when the House bill finally becomes the law of the land."

For years, law enforcement officers, led by Seminole County Sheriff Don Eslinger, have warned legislators that Internet cafes were operating illegal slot machines that paid no taxes and provided no customer safeguards. Eslinger's department is among several law enforcement agencies prosecuting the case against Allied Veterans.

Last year, the state House of Representatives passed a bill to ban the machines, but it was blocked by the Florida Senate, which wanted to regulate them.

Absent a compromise, the gaming centers continued to proliferate in strip malls and storefronts around the state, and their owners have steered millions into legislative campaigns.

A Times/Herald analysis found more than $1.4 million went into legislative coffers from 78 people or companies linked to Allied Veterans of the World from 2008 to 2012.

Shamed by taking vast amounts of cash from what police now say was a fake charity, many legislators have been scrambling to return it.

Lenny Curry, chairman of the Republican Party of Florida, announced the party would donate $300,000 to a state-run veteran's group, though the party received a total of $533,830 from Allied Veterans groups, according to the Times/Herald analysis.

The Florida Democratic Party, which received $244,000 from the groups over the same time period plans to donate the funds to a veterans charity but has not announced further details, according to party spokeswoman Brannon Jordan.

Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, R-Coral Gables, who led the Senate charge last year to regulate the industry but not ban it, was among the top lawmakers to receive contributions from Allied Veterans.

He and an affiliated political committee received $69,500 from Allied Veterans affiliates, the analysis found. He said he had counted only $15,000 "but the total contribution makes no difference."

Sen. Joe Negron, R-Palm City, got $25,000 through his Florida Conservative Action Committee.

He said he plans to raise the same amount and contribute the money to the Wounded Warriors Project.

"If these allegations are proven, what concerns me greatly is that (Allied Veterans) may have exploited veterans," he wrote in an email to the Times/Herald.

 

Political contributions tied to Allied Veterans

Allied Veterans of the World and its affiliates gave more than $1.4 million to local, state and federal candidates and their related political committees from 2008 to 2012. The state Republican and state Democratic parties got the bulk of contributions, but so did plenty of lawmakers. In all, Allied Vets showered 175 political committees and political candidates with contributions. The totals reflect a combination of funds collected by candidates in their individual or main political committees, known as Committees of Continuous Existence. Allied Vets and its affiliates face state and federal racketeering, illegal gambling and money laundering charges. Sources: Operation Reveal the Deal Master Affidavit, Operation Reveal the Deal exhibits, Florida Division of Elections, Federal Elections Commission.

Candidate/committeeAmount donated
Republican Party of Florida $533,830
Florida Democratic Party $244,000
Diaz de la Portilla, Miguel $69,500
Latvala, Jack $44,000
Cannon, Dean $25,000
Negron, Joe $25,000
Dorworth, Chris $23,500
Aronberg, Dave $20,700
Maddox, Scott $19,750
Bogdanoff, Ellyn $19,000
Artiles, Frank $17,500
Weatherford, Will $16,500
Putting Florida First, Inc. (ECO) $15,000
Smith, Christopher "Chris" $14,500
Haridopolos, Mike $14,400
Diaz de la Portilla, Alex $13,000
Cruz, Janet $11,500
Crisafulli, Steve $11,500
Frishe, James C. "Jim" $11,000
Bernard, Mack $10,000
21st Century Florida (CCE) $10,000
Galvano, Bill $9,500
Hukill, Dorothy L. $9,500
Gonzalez, Eddy $8,500
Oliva, Jose $8,500
Detert, Nancy C. $6,200
Weinstein, Mike $6,000
Rouson, Darryl Ervin $6,000
Jones, Mia L. $5,500
Brandes, Jeffrey $5,500
Florida Votes! (ECO) $5,000
Democratic Executive Committee Of Florida $5,000
Lopez Cantera, Carlos $5,000
Floridians for Efficiency in Government (ECO) $5,000
Floridians for Strong Families (ECO) $5,000
Freedom First Committee Inc. (ECO) $5,000
Citizens for Ethical and Effective Leaders (ECO) $5,000
Sunshine State Freedom Fund (ECO) $5,000
Citizens for Common Sense (ECO) $5,000
Tobia, John $5,000
Soto, Darren $4,000
Diaz de la Portilla, Renier $4,000
Nunez, Jeanette M. $4,000
Margolis, Gwen $4,000
Garcia, Rene $3,500
Bruno, Frank T. $3,250
Baker, Carey $3,000
Bullard, Dwight $3,000
Schenck, Robert $3,000
Saunders, Ron $3,000
Stafford, Cynthia A. $3,000
Fresen, Erik $3,000
O'Toole, H. Marlene $3,000
Sachs, Maria $3,000
Legg, John $3,000
Plotkin, Jay $2,950
McBurney, Charles $2,950
Gibbons, Joseph "Joe" $2,500
Waldman, Jim $2,500
Farkas, Frank $2,500
Diaz, Jose Felix $2,500
Fasano, Mike $2,500
Perry, James R "Rick" $2,500
Gibson, Audrey $2,500
McDaniel, John P. "Johnny Mac" $2,100
Brodeur, Jason $2,000
Corcoran, Richard $2,000
Scott, Rick $2,000
Rehwinkel Vasilinda, Michelle $2,000
Pilon, Ray $2,000
Tell the Public the Facts Inc. (ECO) $2,000
Watson, Barbara $1,500
Cummings, Travis $1,500
Davis, Daniel $1,500
Thrasher, John $1,500
Boyd, Jim $1,500
Obama, Barack $1,500
West, Allen B $1,500
Caldwell, Matt $1,500
Albritton, Ben $1,500
Perman, Steve $1,500
Patronis, Jimmy $1,500
Norman, Jim $1,500
Hulsey, Mark $1,100
Sharpe, Mark $1,065
Grimsley, Denise $1,000
Abruzzo, Joseph $1,000
Goodson, Tom $1,000
Aubuchon, Gary $1,000
Ford, C.V. $1,000
Bradley, Rob $1,000
Fitzenhagen, Heather $1,000
Edwards, Katie $1,000
Eagle, Dane $1,000
Brown, Corrine $1,000
Campbell, Daphne $1,000
Davis, Mike $1,000
Evers, Greg $1,000
Roberson, Ken $1,000
Slosberg, Irving "Irv" $1,000
Siplin, Victoria $1,000
Nunez, Jeanette $1,000
Smith, A.J. $1,000
Shulman, Josh $1,000
Sobel, Eleanor $1,000
Rivera, David $1,000
Pritchett, Sharon $1,000
Schwartz, Elaine J. $1,000
Thompson, Geraldine F. $1,000
Thurston, Perry E. $1,000
Passidomo, Kathleen $1,000
Logan, Ana Rivas $1,000
Steube, Greg $1,000
Wood, John $1,000
Workman, Ritch $1,000
Hill, Robert $1,000
Holder, Doug $1,000
Horner, Mike $1,000
Rodrigues, Ray $1,000
Hutson, Travis $1,000
Kottkamp, Jeff $1,000
Joyner, Arthenia L. $1,000
Julien, John Patrick $1,000
Watson, Clovis $1,000
Hudson, Matt $1,000
Davis, Brian J. $600
Corey, Angela B. $525
Coley, Marti $500
Clark, Richard Andrew $500
Simmons, David $500
Broxson, Doug $500
Smith, Jimmie T. $500
Braynon, Oscar $500
Taylor, Dwayne L. $500
Renuart, Ronald "Doc" $500
Benacquisto, Lizbeth $500
Trujillo, Carlos $500
Atwater, Jeff $500
Williams, Alan $500
Altman, Thad $500
Ahern, Larry $500
Steinberg, Richard L. $500
Moraitis, George $500
Hays, Alan $500
Grant, James $500
Garcia, Luis R Jr $500
Young, Dana $500
Gaetz, Matt $500
Kiar, Martin David $500
Mayfield, Debbie $500
McKeel, Seth $500
Flores, Anitere $500
Metz, Larry $500
Ring, Jeremy $500
Montford, Bill $500
Costello, Fred $500
Powell, Bobby $500
Ingram, Clay $500
Drake, David Bradley $500
Richter, Garrett $500
Oelrich, Stephen M. $500
Harrison, Shawn $500
Porter, Elizabeth $500
Dean, Charles S. $500
Nehr, Peter $500
Blazs, Kevin A. $360
Bean, Aaron $300
Pariente, Barbara J. $250
National Fraternal Order Of Police PAC $250
Lakin, John F $200
Bembry, Leonard L. $141
Morrow, Jefferson W. $100
Norton, Virginia $100
Cole, Karen K. $100
Buttner, Rick $50
Realtors PAC - Florida CCE $19
Grand Total $1,453,790

 

Florida House votes to ban Internet cafes 03/22/13 [Last modified: Saturday, March 23, 2013 1:24pm]
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