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It’s The Governor’s Turn To Decide The Next Move For Amusement Games

Brittany Bush Bollay

When lawmakers passed legislation to shut down internet cafes, associated with illegal gambling activities, they also created a legal grey area for amusement games. Amusement chain Dave and Busters says the law has kept Florida off its list of locations for rapid expansion. But a measure aimed at clearing that up is on its way to the governor’s desk.

Florida’s internet café crackdown caused trouble for some of Florida’s major businesses. That’s according to Sen. Kelli Stargel (R-Lakeland).

“This law was crafted as a response to what happened a few years ago when we shut down the internet cafes. And when we did that, it was an unintended consequence that basically made real arcade places such as a Chuck E Cheese or Dave and Buster or Family Fun Center type places questionable about whether they could operate in law. In fact, Disney World actually got rid of their game rooms because they were afraid of that,” Stargel says.

Stargel is sponsoring a bill aimed at clearing up that confusion. It limits the value of the prizes that can be won and limits the locations where amusement games are allowed. Stargel says the measure also includes a carve out for places with 50 or more games or venues with some kind of food or beverage license regulated by the Department of Business and Professional Regulation or the DBPR.

“The purpose of having some sort or regulation through DBPR is to go in and see what those different groups are doing,” Stargel says.

But some like Sen. Maria Sachs (D-Delray Beach) worry while Stargel is providing a fix for larger businesses, she’s hurting smaller ones.

“Now I don’t know where Chuck E Cheese has their corporate headquarters. I’ve never been in a Chuck E Cheese. But I know that there are little arcades around that are Florida owned and operated. And you were probably with me in the reg industries when they came in for hours and talked about their small ma and pa businesses that are owned and operated and located in little strip malls throughout the state of Florida,” Sachs says.

Sachs says many of those are what she calls senior arcades and often, she says they don’t have 50 games and wouldn’t meet the criteria set for an allowable arcade under Stargel’s bill.

“And folks like to go in without their kids and may be have an hours or two of entertainment, get dressed up and a meet their friends. And they’re in every district I would imagine,” Sachs says.

But Stargel says lawmakers have to work cautiously in order to avoid reopening the door for internet cafes or other bad actors. She says the legislation is crafted specifically to make room for family focused venues.

“In fact, they renamed it as the family amusement arcade. It’s for families. It’s for people who are going for legitimate fun game play,” Stargel says.

And Stargel says there’s an easy solution for the small businesses Sachs mentioned.

“My suggestion would be to the businesses that you may describing is get a food and beverage license. Sell some hotdogs or hamburgers. Have some alcohol. Have whatever and don’t just have a building where you can walk in and play a game and leave. Have more of an establishment than that,” Sachs says.

The measure has passed in both the Senate and House. It’s waiting for final approval from the governor.

Follow @Regan_McCarthy

Regan McCarthy is the Assistant News Director for WFSU Public Media. Before coming to Tallahassee, Regan graduated with honors from Indiana University’s Ernie Pyle School of Journalism. She worked for several years for NPR member station WFIU in Bloomington, Ind., where she covered local and state government and produced feature and community stories.

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

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