A three-year federal and state investigation that culminated in 57 arrests has led to Florida lawmakers enacting legislation that shuts down the state’s Internet cafes.
Florida Governor Rick Scott signed the bill into law Wednesday after both chambers of the legislature hurriedly approved the measure. The cafes, said to be numbered in the hundreds, were found to be offering a variety of online gambling options.
“The House and Senate did the right thing to crack down on illegal gaming,” Scott said.
The lengthy investigation discovered that the Allied Veterans of the World, operator of the cafes who promoted their efforts as a charitable organization designed to benefit veterans, kept all but 2% of the generated revenue. That revenue amounted to some $300 million. Racketeering and money laundering charges were levied against 57 cafe owners and operators affiliated with Allied.
When the allegations first surfaced, the state’s former Lieutenant Gov., Jennifer Carroll, resigned from her duties due to her public relations work on behalf of Allied Veterans. Carroll is not one of the 57 indicted in the probe.
The Internet cafes acted as social gathering places for the Sunshine State’s large population of retirees. The cafes had allegedly been running in accordance with a law that allows various sweepstakes as promotions. Estimates show that the cafe closings will put about 14,000 citizens out of work. Also, businesses operating in the vicinity of the cafes are expected to lose substantial revenue.
“With the stroke of the governor’s pen, thousands of jobs were lost today,” said Gale Fontaine, the Florida Arcade Association’s president. “With all the effort that is put into this state to create jobs, it is unconscionable that the state is acting to put people in the unemployment line.”
Opposition by the association and senior citizen groups saw many staging protests outside of a number of Internet cafes in Tallahassee. However, anti-gambling groups and the state’s racinos applauded the new bill.
“Expanded gambling and Internet cafes is not an economic strategy,” David Hart, a lobbyist on behalf of the Florida Chamber of Commerce, told the Orlando Sentinel. “It’s a bad bet for Florida.”
The new law requires ‘games of skill’ to be coin-operated, which favors establishments such as Dave and Buster’s or Chuck E. Cheese. Also, the maximum amount allowed to be won on each game is 75 cents.
Any prospect of online poker and gambling regulations being considered in Florida took a big hit with the latest legislation. It’s expected that legislators will not be interested in entertaining such proposals while the Allied Veterans’ scam is still fresh in their minds.