Florida recently passed a bill to crack down on Internet café gambling; however, the verbiage in the bill is so far-reaching that some say it can be interpreted to include all computers or android phones that connect to the Internet, essentially making technology illegal in the state.
The bill, passed two months ago by the Florida legislature, expanded the definition of the term “slot machine” to include any regular personal computers (PC) as being used as “makeshift slot machines”; thus, according to legislators, allowing gambling centers to operate as Internet adult arcades and Internet cafés.
Florida’s new definition of a slot machine includes “any machine or device or system or network of devices” used to play games of chance or skill, which can be activated by not just inserting money, but an “account number, code, or other object or information.” (cnn.com)
After several years of investigation, the state determined to suppress the practice of Internet gambling cafés masquerading as part of a charitable organization. It led to the resignation of Florida Lt. Governor Jennifer Carroll, more than 50 arrests, and the new bill banning Internet cafés.
However, some believe authorities reacted too quickly instead of analyzing the problem and making a plan for moving forward, “There are unintended consequences of hastily passed legislation in the wake of a scandal,” said attorney Justin Kaplan, whose firm Kluger, Kaplan, Silverman, Katzen & Levine is representing the plaintiff in a new lawsuit. (cnn.com)
Incredible Investments, LLC, and its owner Consuelo Zapata are bringing a lawsuit forth; they ran an Internet café in Homestead, south of Miami. The café offered game promotions to customers who could use the computer to see if they had won anything after they had purchased time on the machines. The lawsuit likens Zapata’s “sweepstakes drawings” to games like McDonald’s Monopoly game.
The lawsuit alleges Florida’s new definition of a slot machine could include any PC or smartphone with access to the Internet since, theoretically, a person could play illegal games by entering account information and could play poker, bingo, or any other games deemed illegal or criminal by the bill.
“The possibilities of going on the Internet and using your phone generally turns every single smartphone, computer, whatever, into an illegal slot machine,” said Kaplan. (cnn.com)
Kaplan cited a recent advertising campaign for Bud Light showing a man entering a code from a case of beer into his smartphone to determine if he had won a prize from the beer company. He sees no difference between what his client was doing and the Bud Light promotion, the McDonald’s contest, or any other sweepstakes.
The attorney goes on the explain that any device “which is activated by input of a code that indirectly, by any element of chance, entitles you to a payout,” in a contest. He also continues his explanation of the lawsuit and the ambiguity of the bill by stating that public libraries could be at risk, they have computers and if somebody walked in to check their contest standings, they could become part of a scandal for running illegal slot machines.
There are further issues with the law, according to Kaplan; he claims it is unconstitutional because of an amendment that presumes a device is a slot machine if “it is used to display images of games of chance” and “involves a payout of anything of value.” “Here the burden is shifted,” said Kaplan. “It’s saying you are presumed to be guilty, now prove to us this really wasn’t a slot machine.” (cnn.com)
More than 1,000 Internet cafés have been shut down under the new law, according to the Tampa Bay Times. Businesses with standalone gaming machines and arcades are being impacted as well. More than likely, others will file lawsuits as they find their businesses obstructed by the confusing and vague wording in the new bill.
Surely, Florida did not intend to roll back to 1980.
By Dawn Cranfield
US News Special Correspondent