One by one, more than three dozen citizens addressed the Nassau county commission Monday night, the vast majority of them pleading with the commission to allow adult gaming arcades to continue operating in the county, but ultimately came a unanimous vote to shut them down.
“I think this is a drastic measure,” one citizen told commissioners even before the roll call vote, hinting of a foregone conclusion.￼
The vote came a month after the Nassau County Sheriff's Office told the commission a recent undercover operation had found offers of drugs and prostitution to officers.￼ But one person after another told the commission that crime statistics attributed to adult gaming arcades are grossly exaggerated.
“I’ve never been in any danger, I don’t see any danger,”￼￼ resident Carol Olivant told First Coast News, saying she’s a frequent patron.
Ben Manning, an arcade manager of about five years, said the sheriff’s office’s statistics were inflated by phantom attribution.
“Just because you pulled someone over in a gaming room parking lot, that does not affect us," Manning said. "That has nothing to do with us,” Manning said.
On the contrary, many people claimed that the arcades provide both economic and social benefits, the latter of which especially ￼￼to the elderly.
“I’m a senior. It gives me someplace to go,” Dorothy Cochran said.￼
“Millions of dollars every single year and commerce to this area that we are losing” Manning shrugged after the decision.
Manning went on to say estimate that at least 400 gaming room employees in the county will soon be out of work.￼
“I’ll have to find another job to support my family,” he said.
There were many who pleaded for a middle ground, one that would include regulation, instead of the moratorium.
“Close the game rooms at one at night,” one man suggested to the commission. “Close them at one time every night.”￼￼￼
Acknowledging that some games - especially one called a “fishing” game - might be alluring to armed robbers, several workers and patrons urged the commission to simply outlaw such games that might attract crime.
But before the vote, former commission chairman Justin Taylor explained that the commission has no authority to regulate, and he recommended a vote to shut the arcades down.
“That’s a straight-up lie [that] they couldn’t regulate,” Manning countered.
There were a few who supported the closure, including a former Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office robbery detective who told First Coast News he moved to Nassau County to get away from high crime. Jason Royal also recalled that in his day, when adult game arcades were legal in Duval County, the establishments were a routine entry on the police blotter.
“Every morning they would write out the robberies that happened the night before or the day before, and it seemed like there was always one popping up,” Royal said.
At the very least, arcade owners asked that they be given a temporary suspension of requirement to pay property taxes until they could find new tenants. They also cited contractual obligations that could cost them money beyond ￼a shutdown - especially an immediate one.
But ultimately the commission decided to approve the shutdown, giving owners 60 days to comply, without any further concessions.
The deadline for adult gaming arcades to close in Nassau County is March 27.