Friday, April 12, 2013
Illegal Gambling Room Still Open For Business
Gambling Arcade Still Open Despite Law Change This Week
LABELLE, FL. -- Despite Florida Governor Rick Scott signing into law Wednesday the banning of casino style gambling devices at "internet cafes" and "adult game arcades." one lone holdout still remains in rural Hendry county. The gambling ban took place immediately upon his signing the legislation.
The Luxxor 777 arcade room in a small office mall on State Road 80 on the east side of the city of LaBelle was open and operating Friday. The lone attendant said she was aware of the new law signed this week but said, "No one has told us to close."
She described how her business operates, as one customer walked into the dimly lit room as several dozen brightly colored, flashing machines buzzed in the background. She said customers can get a pin code to operate the computer controlled machines by paying as little as $10. The first payment gets an additional $5 of free play she said.
When winning points reach the $25 mark, the customer can collect in cash. She said she didn't know the odds of winning or the "payout" percentage but said it should be marked on each machine.
LaBelle, the small town county seat of Hendry county, just east of Fort Myers had at one time three game rooms where customers could wager their money for cash or gift cards. The original "adult gameroom" was the Lion's Den Game Arcade which opened several years ago. It closed March 30th.
The second gaming "casino" to open in LaBelle was the Saddle Up Arcade near downtown LaBelle on State Road 80 in a small shopping plaza, and owned by Karen L. Harvell. It is still open, but not giving away any prizes, only food.
After operating since 2009 giving away $25 Walmart, Ace Hardware, and Winn-Dixie gift cards to winning customers, the manager today said he can't give anything away, but does allow customers to play the machines for fun. He said the cost to play is about eight to 25 cents per play.
A large sign is displayed inside the Saddle Up notifying customers that the new law does not allow a gift card prize to be given anymore. To keep customers happy, there is a table with complimentary food and snacks.
An association of bingo room and game room operators are currently planning to sue to keep their operations open. Saddle Up's manager said he's asked Hendry Sheriff Steve Whidden's office for a decision on whether his machines that accept dollar bills might be acceptable, although the law says only "coins" can be inserted for playing. Even so, he admits only prizes worth 75 cents or less can be given to winners.
The payout on the machines varied he said, but generally the customer got 75 cents of each dollar bet. The business keeping the remaining 25 percent.
On April 4th the Florida Senate by a vote of 36 to 4 passed legislation to ban unauthorized slot machine gambling in Florida. Senate Bill 1030, sponsored by Senator John Thrasher (R-St. Augustine), clarifies current gaming laws concerning slot machines, charitable drawings, game promotions and amusement games. The legislation was signed into law Wednesday, April 10 by Governor Rick Scott and became effective immediately.
“I am grateful for Senator Thrasher’s strong leadership in guiding this important bill through the legislative process,” said Senate President Don Gaetz (R-Niceville). “The slot-machine gambling found in Internet cafes and other questionable operations is wrong, predatory, and illegal, and today, both Senate Democrats and Republicans alike voted to set the record straight and approve this legislation, which eliminates the ambiguities surrounding the legality of these machines.”
The new law affirms that gambling is illegal in Florida unless specifically authorized by law. Currently only the State lottery, charitable raffles, some sweepstakes, along with Indian casinos, and some dog and horse racing track casino style games and their card games are exceptions to Florida's "no gambling" law.
Amusement arcades can operate if they involve skill to win, are coin operated and no cash prizes or gift cards are awarded. The law creates a presumption that a device or computer network is an illegal "slot machine" if it simulates a game of chance, accepts payment, and awards prizes.
The new law clarifies that the charitable drawings exception is only for raffles, while the sweepstakes exception is only for promotions that truly are incidental to the sale of consumer products or services.
The amusement arcades exception is not for casino style games but only for coin-operated games that involve an element of skill and for which non-cash prizes are awarded. Gift cards, typically used by many operators, cannot be given as prizes.
Update: On April 17 a sign was posted on the front door of the Luxxor indicating they will be closed until the State gives them permission to open. A phone number was listed for customers to call for information.
(Video: Two games room in LaBelle, one apparently operating illegally and one closed. The Saddle Up, not shown in the video, appears to be operating legally at the moment by not giving out prizes. Apologies for the misspelling of "gambling" in the video title.)