Tallahassee, Florida - The Florida Senate passed legislation that aims to shut down illegal Internet cafes across Florida.
The bill now heads to Gov. Rick Scott.
State lawmakers reacted quickly to a sweeping state and federal gambling investigation of illegal Internet cafes across Florida. It resulted in scores of arrests and the shutdown of nearly 50 Internet cafes on charges of racketeering and money laundering.
The bill updates Florida's arcade and sweepstakes law with a new definition of slot machines. That will allow police and prosecutors to shut down facilities using computer games that operate like slot machines.
Senior citizens and adult arcade owners strongly opposed the bill. They argued senior arcades have operated legally for decades but now may get swept up by the legislation and be forced to shut down.
Bill sponsor John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine, insists the bill will not shut down any legitimate businesses, including the adult arcades.
"I don't think we're hurting them. I really don't. I think if they've had machines that have been organized in a way that floats them over out of the gray area into the slot machine area, then they might have to look at some of those and retool. But other than that, we're not doing anything significantly to hurt arcades."
Sen. Audrey Gibson, D-Jacksonville, was concerned the bill would hurt legal businesses, unnecessarily eliminate jobs and entertainment options for seniors.
"If they enjoy it and it's not illegal, then I think we should consider maybe further regulation and protections. But not totally dismantle investments that people have made in the community and then destroy many jobs."
Gibson ultimately voted for the bill.
Sen. Maria Sachs cast her vote against the measure. She said she did not want the legislation to cast a wide net that hurts legitimate businesses.
"In my district alone, there are 60 senior arcades. They're not Internet cafes. They are places where my seniors can go in and enjoy a couple of hours of safe, enjoyable fun. They don't get more than 75 cents every time they win something. It's only in a coupon. It is never cash."
Sachs said she was concerned the bill would create unintended consequences that end up hurting senior citizens.
The Senate passed the bill 36 - 4.