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Bill To Define Which Games Are 'Gambling' Moves To Senate Floor

When is a game won on skill? When is a game won by chance? The Florida Senate Rules Committee Tuesday furthered the gambling debate, passing a bill defining certain games of chance at the heart of the illegal gambling debate.

Let’s play a quick game of word association. I say “slot machines,” and you say… Gambling? Casino? Probably a word having to do with one or the other. But if I say the word “game promotion,” what do you say…? Coupon for a board game? Actually it’s a marketing tool used by businesses to get people in the door. They’re a lot like slot machines and you should be associating the phrase with Internet Cafés. Their operators claim ‘It’s advertising. We’re selling internet and phone cards.’ But many see selling internet and phone cards as a cover for gambling. Gambling is illegal in Florida. Sen. John Thrasher (R-St. Augustine) is the sponsor of a bill clarifying the definition of “game promotion”.

“That a device is a prohibited slot machine if it simulates a game of chance and requires pay-to-play and rewards something of value,” says Thrasher.

And that’s all, folks. In the crusade against internet cafés and the illegal gambling associated with them, Thrasher’s bill further defines what a slot machine is and then defines how the game promotions are basically that. But others believe the measure goes too far. Do Chucky Cheese’s and Dave and Buster’s games of chance get thrown into the mix?

“It’s not the intention to close down the amusement arcades, the bowling alleys, the Dave and Buster’s, that’s never been the intention,” Says Sen. Garrett Richter (R-Naples).

Still Opponents say because the bill does not allow for accumulation of rewards – think saving up lots of tokens for the top-shelf prize – the business model most of those companies run on will be ruined. Under the bill the most value someone can cash-out on is 75 cents. Attorney Michael Wolf representing the Florida Arcade and Bingo Association says the prizes that make those businesses go won’t exist with the small cash-out limit.

“iTunes cards happen to be the number one thing that’s redeemed for at Dave and Buster’s as I understand it. You’re eliminating that. The seniors buy their groceries and their prescriptions with the gift cards that are not cash. You’re eliminating that,” says Wolf.

Both arcade owners and the senior citizens that frequent the arcades came to the committee Tuesday to speak their opposition.  Anita Silverman, a Delray Beach resident, was one of many senior citizens trying to debunk the idea of an arcade as a criminal hotspot.

“I’m a widow for 18 years. Saturday is so lonely. I have an arcade5 minutes away from my home. I go there and I meet people. I talk. Then I go home. Please please don’t do away with these little arcades,” says Silverman.

So why not just make an exemption for the arcades? Sen. Jeremy Ring (D-Margate) was quick to point out he’s tried and tried again to bring the Arcade Industry to the table for proper regulation and they’ve refused.

“This could’ve been worked out years ago and not lumped in with the internet café but it is here today because there’s only been vehement opposition and no proactive response to try to work together to create the proper regulations,” says Ring.

Sen. Eleanor Sobel (D-Hollywood) agreed with Ring. She along with all other members of the committee voted yes on the bill but thought in due time there should be an exemption for the arcades. All committee members agreed the bill worked to remove Internet Cafés. The bill will next be heard on the Senate floor.