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Lawmakers Keeping Arcades Open, But Some Worry About Future Of Bingo

Ryan McGuire

Florida Seniors are sending a clear message – hands off my Bingo. Lawmakers working to balance that while trying to fix a bill that created a grey area for arcade games without reopening a loophole that allowed gambling through internet cafes.

When lawmakers hear  Rep. Jay Trumbull’s (R-Panama City) amusement game bill they’ve got one question.

How will this affect Bingo?

Lawmakers who come from areas with large senior populations are worried about the impact the measure could have on Bingo halls. Michael Wolf from the Florida Arcade and Bingo Association told lawmakers in an earlier Senate committee the plan could wipe some Bingo places out. He says the measure defines what’s not an amusement game and includes video depictions of Bingo.

“When law enforcement sees that they says ‘not amusement machines, therefore illegal slot machines,” Wolf says.

Wolf says law enforcement officers are already raising concerns about an electronic device used by some bingo halls called a bingo minder. It helps players keep track of their bingo cards and electronically marks the cards for them when the numbers get called.

But Trumbull says the House version of the bill doesn’t change current Bingo law.   

“In no way does this effect, positively or negatively bingo parlors or pool tabs. It does talk specifically in the bill that bingo parlors are not considered amusement games and this only effects family amusement games,” Trumbull says.

And Sen. Kelli Stargel (Lakeland-R) says that’s true for the Senate bill too.

“We did not change bingo statute, so if your bingo is legal bingo then nothing in this is going to affect you being able to do your bingo. What this does say is if you have video representation of a casino type game, then you would have a problem,” Lakeland says.

Meanwhile, Sen. Anitere Flores (R-Miami) says she worries the bill’s prohibition of video depictions of casino games could limit the use of some games legitimately made for amusement.

“At Chuck E Cheese or wherever you are and I have a six-year-old so whenever you go there, there’s sometimes like big wheels or a wheel of fortune kind of thing and it’s video. Sometimes there’s even a pull tab to it,” Flores says.

And Stargel says it’s true some places might have to make adjustments. She says the measure is intended to help businesses offering traditional family-style amusement games stay open, without making room for bad actors to start back up.

“We specify in the bill that it cannot be video depictions that appear like slot machines card games, have a depiction that look or simulate a casino kind of game. So, there will be some games possibly that may be at some of these kinds of amusements that would go away,” Stargel says.

Stargel says other games with video depictions, like Pacman would not be affected. She says she’s trying to ensure places like an arcade in her area stay open. Trumbull likely has the same motivation. Dave and Busters recently opened a new store in his city. It’s certainly a motivator for Bradenton Republican Representative Jim Boyd.

“Due to an ambiguity in the law, a large amusement chain canceled its plan to come to the Tampa Bay area, which could have resulted in millions of dollars of capital invested and hundreds of jobs,” Boyd says.

According to a fact sheet from Dave and Busters the business is planning to open at least 8 stores per year in the United States over the next 15 years. There are several cities including Tampa, Tallahassee, Boca Raton and Brandon where the business would like to open, but without the new legislation, the company says it’ll skip building in Florida all together.                                    

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Regan McCarthy covers healthcare and government in Tallahassee, Florida. She is the Assistant News Director for WFSU Public Media.

Phone: (850) 645-6090 | rmccarthy@fsu.edu

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