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Florida lawmakers work to restore family arcade games


Published:   |   Updated: March 10, 2014 at 09:38 PM

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TALLAHASSEE — Claw machine lovers, celebrate.

A bill moving through the state Senate clarifies Florida law to make sure arcade games like those found at bowling alleys and Chuck E. Cheese’s eateries won’t remain swept up in a law passed nearly a year ago that shut down Internet cafes and senior arcades.

The bill, sponsored by state Sen. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, on Monday cleared its first review by the state Senate gaming committee. It allows players to use several different types of currency — including coins, tokens or cards — to operate the game, a change from the measure passed last year, which said games must be coin-operated.

The state Legislature in 2013 approved legislation that led to the closing of so-called Internet cafes and senior arcades across the state.

The revision now proposed would bump up the amount a player can receive per round to $5.25 from 75 cents and would increase the maximum worth of a direct merchandise game, such as a claw machine, to about $50.

Stargel said the change now defines an amusement game as one that is played for “bona fide entertainment” and where skill, not chance, controls the results of the game.

“Our target was not family arcades,” she said of the 2013 legislation. “So by supporting this bill, you’re providing the clarification needed for entertainment for children and adults.”

These proposed changes have been coming along for months. In September, Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, told the Senate gaming committee he had been contacted by the owner of a “claw” machine business who was forced to remove the arcade-style game from in front of more than 100 stores.

Stargel said her proposal aims to correct that, while making sure casino-style games don’t sneak back in.

“It’s not casino-style, it’s not poker-looking games,” she said. “It has to be an element of fun. There’s not the opportunity for big winnings.”

In fact, Stargel’s proposal keeps language forbidding “video poker games or any other game or machine that may be construed as a gambling device under Florida law.”

Arcade owners said they back Stargel’s proposal, some driving from hours away to just lend their support.

Mike Barnes, owner of Zoomers Amusement Park near Fort Myers, said while he hasn’t had any problems since the 2013 law went into effect, he wanted to attend the hearing to make sure lawmakers know how businesses like his could be affected.

“We wanted to make sure we were in compliance with the laws and see what the Legislature was going to do about the changes they made,” he said.

The proposal sailed through the state Senate gaming committee, which is also addressing amusement arcades this legislative session. The proposed Senate committee bill makes many of the same tweaks to the state law as Stargel’s.

On Monday, state Sen. Garrett Richter, R-Naples, the committee chairman, thanked Stargel for her work and said the measure would address the “unintended consequences that happened.”

The Senate bill now heads to the commerce and tourism committee.

jmbuzzacco@naplesnews.com

239-263-4805.

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