TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- It was supposed to be a quiet legislative session for the House Select Committee on Gaming at the state Capitol.
The committee didn't plan to debate any major issues, but that all changed this week with the sweeping gambling investigation targeting Internet cafes across the state that caused the resignation of Florida Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll.
On Friday, the House committee moved swiftly to pass legislation banning Internet cafes in Florida.
The bill was just posted publicly Thursday night, prompting criticism from Rep. Jim Waldman, D-Coconut Creek, that lawmakers were once again responding with a knee-jerk reaction that happens so often in Tallahassee.
Waldman urged his colleagues to slow down on the issue because at least one prosecutor warned the bill could hurt gambling prosecutions in Florida.
"While well intentioned and I understand what you want to do, it seems like this is nothing but what we consistently seem to do around the Florida House and that is a knee-jerk reaction to something that took place and what took place is three days ago arrests were made."
But the committee was not persuaded. Members voted 15 to 1 to ban the online slot machines used in Internet cafes, adult arcades and the maquinitas in Miami.
The vote comes just days after federal and state authorities arrested nearly 60 people and shut down about 50 Internet cafes associated with the nonprofit Allied Veterans of the World based in the Jacksonville area.
Rep. Charles McBurney, R-Jacksonville, a former prosecutor, said prosecuting cases against Internet café operators is difficult under current state laws. He said the laws need clarification.
McBurney said this week's gambling investigation hit home especially hard in the Jacksonville area.
"Many of those in Jacksonville opened their hearts to Internet cafes because they believed that the money spent in them was going to a great cause: betterment of the lives of the many veterans who live in Jacksonville. But if the allegations that have been raised in the last few days are true, and we must allow our system of justice to determine the voracity of those allegations, then many citizens of Jacksonville were deceived."
Allied Veterans of the World allegedly collected nearly $300 million from illegal gambling operations, but returned just a small fraction of that cash to help veterans.
Rep. Dana Young, R-Tampa, said Internet cafes have proliferated across Florida and it's time to get rid of them.
"This House of Representatives has acted in the past to shut down these establishments that are preying on the elderly and the poor in our communities and it's time that we finally are able to hopefully get a bill that will pass both the House and the Senate and be signed by the governor."
The Florida House passed a similar bill last year but it didn't get through the Senate.