Lawmakers Push Restart Button On Arcade Legislation

Mar 11, 2014

Credit Andrew Ressa

When lawmakers passed a measure last session to crack down on internet cafes running illegal gaming operations, some worried the bill also meant “game over” for family arcades. A measure filed this year is aimed at backing off some of those rules so those businesses can stay open without gambling on the possibility of a lawsuit.

Capital Lanes in Tallahassee is more than just a bowling alley. It also houses a bar and sizeable arcade

Director of Operations Daniel Pizzi said about 15 percent of the business’s income comes from those games and he said a legislative change last year left his company operating in what he called something of a legal “grey area.”

“I know within our industry, because I’m a member of the BCAF, which is the Bowling Centers Association of Florida. And I know at our meetings, we all know that the knock could come tomorrow and basically what we do is we just keep operating the way we’ve always operated and pray that that doesn’t happen," Pizzi said.

Pizzi said when lawmakers sped an internet café ban through the legislature last year, the measure had what he thinks were unintended consequences. Games with some element of skill used to be allowed, but changes last year meant games of chance and games of skill were both prohibited unless the game centers could bear to earn an exemption: such as having at least 50 arcade-style machines and giving out prizes valued at 75-cents or less per game.

But Pizzi said while he’s not clear on whether he’s following all the rules, nobody has asked him to close and he has no plans to. He said his business isn’t the kind of place lawmakers wanted to shutter.                         

“We just want to be able to continue to do what we’ve always done before this whole changing of the bill happened. I don’t think, and obviously I can’t speak for the 156 bowling centers. But I would seriously doubt that anyone has ever gone to a bowling center in Florida, and blew their entire paycheck, left their kids hungry and couldn’t pay the rent all because they were playing a crane game,” Pizzi said.

And Pizzi isn’t the only who’s confused by the state’s new rules. Tallahassee Democratic Senator Bill Montford is a member of the Senate Gaming Committee.

“I take my grandchildren often and I often wondered last year if I was breaking the law somewhere,” Montford said.

The committee took up a bill to clarify the state’s rules Monday. Lakeland Republican Senator Kelli Stargel filed the bill.

“My intention is to hit just the games that are played for amusement with skill for fun, not to get rich,” Stargel said.

Stargel’s bill redefines what kinds of games are allowed and what kinds of establishments can operate them. It also increases the prize value from 75-cents to $5.25, but specifies those prizes must be redeemed onsite. Pizzi said he’s happy with the proposal.

“I’m supporting getting it written in such a way to allow us to continue to do what we've always done,” Pizzi said.

The measure passed the committee, but some raised concerns about whether the bill would create openings for unsavory businesses to start back up. Meanwhile, others questioned whether the bill shouldn’t be expanded to make room for senior arcades, which tended to give out prizes not redeemable onsite.