In many states officials see ‘internet cafes’ as a front for gambling activities and have proposed legislation to shut them down. Florida is the latest state to propose legislation banning the cafes. The Florida bill could have one unintended effect; shutting down online poker instead of leaving the decision up to the state’s voters. Last week, the Florida State House of Representatives passed a bill that will close some loopholes in the state’s gambling laws. The bill prohibits “any electronic device” from accepting payment for special account numbers or codes that allow players to receive credits or special prizes. The law could prevent online gaming and poker companies from ever doing business in Florida.
A few years ago operators found loopholes in the law and within a short time there were hundreds of internet cafes in the state. Supposedly the cafes were there to offer people time on the internet. Instead the cafes morphed into places where people could play online bingo, keno, slots, poker and other games and win prizes. A recent scandal involving internet cafes forced the Lieutenant Governor to resign and brought the cafes to the attention of legislators who are now attempting to close the loopholes in the law.
Florida Lieutenant Governor Jennifer Carroll’s involvement with the Allied Veterans of the World forced her resignation. The organization was supposed to be a charity and established 65 “gaming centers” throughout Florida. The operation came under scrutiny by law enforcement officials after it was revealed that only $6 million of a reported $260 million raised by the group was actually used for charitable purposes. Over sixty people were arrested and charged with illegal gambling, extortion and other offenses. The arrests prompted lawmakers to act but in this case they may have overreacted.
By closing the loophole that made the internet cafes possible lawmakers may have made it extremely difficult for the passage of any online gambling legislation. As the law is currently worded it would prohibit anyone from playing any gambling games on an “electronic device,” The definition of an ‘electronic device’ includes desktop and laptop computers and mobile devices and notepads. How this new law may affect online gambling in Florida is uncertain. Gaming sites that still accept American players may have to ban players from Florida. Most experts say that legalization of online gaming in the US is inevitable. Hopefully Florida lawmakers will think before they act.