Tallahassee, Florida - State lawmakers continue their push to pass legislation that would shut down Internet cafes in Florida, but some people fear the bill will have unintended consequences and close legitimate amusement arcades.
Seniors and arcade owners packed a Senate committee room Tuesday to plead with senators not to pass legislation that impacts adult arcades. They argued arcades are unfairly getting lumped in with Internet cafes as the Legislature moves quickly to ban electronic machines that operate like slot machines.
Bill sponsor Sen. John Thrasher said Internet cafes and some adult arcades have exploited vague language in Florida law to operate illegal games and those games should be shut down.
But Thrasher insisted his bill would not affect businesses with legitimate arcade games.
"The bill doesn't hurt, in my opinion, Dave and Buster's, Chuck E. Cheese or similar establishments. The bill only is intended to clarify that illegal slot machines are just that: illegal. Legitimate amusement arcade games offered by Dave and Buster's and Chuck E. Cheese and bowling alleys and others, in my opinion, will not be affected by this bill."
The Senate Rules Committee passed the bill over the objections of seniors in the crowd and sent the measure to the full Senate for debate on Thursday.
Gail Fontaine of the Florida Arcade Association delivered some blistering testimony, scolding lawmakers for considering legislation that could affect adult arcades. She said the facilities serve more as a social option for seniors.
"It has nothing to do about the games. It's their clubhouse and I think it's a disgrace that we will take care of the children's community and not take care of the senior community. I find this appalling. That's how I feel about it. All of you are here because of them and none of you understand it. It's sad and I can say I know people sitting on this panel, their mothers and people in their families play in these arcades. So, I mean, it's hypocritical. You are here to protect the people. These are the people."
Martha Wisniewski of Port St. Lucie told senators that her friends at a local arcade really helped her when her daughter died.
"I recently lost my daughter in August. She was 47, died suddenly. Honestly without this arcade that I attend in Port St. Lucie, I don't know what I would've done. I would've went to my room, crawled in the fetal position and stayed there. All these people encouraged me to keep coming back."
Arcade owner Mike Cannon urged lawmakers to slow down on the bill.
"Don't rush to judgment because we didn't do anything wrong. We paid our taxes. We do everything by the law and we've never had a problem and now all of a sudden we have a problem because of the Internet? We're not Internet."
State lawmakers are moving quickly to shut down Internet cafes following a sweeping gambling investigation that shut down nearly 50 Internet cafes, resulted in nearly 60 arrests and prompted the resignation of Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll because of her ties to the company targeted by the gambling probe.