Year after Internet cafe shutdown, lawmakers work to clarify laws

By Matt Galka, Reporter, Capitol News Service
Published On: Mar 14 2014 04:38:28 PM EDT
Florida State Seal
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -

This week marks one year when Florida rushed to shut down Internet cafés and former Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll resigned after being connected to a fake charity. Lawmakers are now trying to clarify the laws.

Floridians haven't been able to step foot in an Internet café for about a year.

Sweeping change came after the bust of Allied Veterans, a fake charity making millions through an illegal Internet café gambling ring.

"The intent of what we did last year, which was to ban Internet cafés across the state of Florida, was very successful," said House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Pasco County.

The intent carried unintended consequences, too. The law only allowed for "coin operated games," putting strains on popular chains like Dave and Buster's and Chuck E. Cheese's that use payments other than cash on their gaming machines.

Sen. Kelli Stargel is proposing a bill that would allow for card payments or coupons to be used.

"It's not a scaling back. What we did last year was absolutely necessary to make it very clear that Internet cafés and the way they're operated is not something we think should be legal," said Stargel, R-Lakeland.

The bill is meant to keep the illegal Internet cafés closed, but there's wiggle room to reopen senior arcades if rules are followed.

Stargel's bill allows for arcades with at least 50 games used for "bona fide entertainment purposes only."

"If it's in an arcade or if they're in a bowling alley, or the bottom of a hotel establishment, or something like that, it's going to be an amusement area, an arcade room. It's not going to be an Internet café," said Stargel.

Weatherford isn't sure the law needs to be changed.

"I'll let our committees and our people figure that out," said Weatherford.

Stargel's bill legalizes claw machines, which opponents said are already considered illegal gambling devices but are found throughout the state.

Stargel's bill received unanimous support from the Senate's Gaming Committee. The House has its own gaming bill that doesn't have any language about arcade games.

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