TALLAHASSEE — A year after the Florida Legislature approved sweeping legislation that led to the closing of Internet cafes and senior arcades across the state, some lawmakers are hoping tweaks to the law might help fix some of the unintended consequences.
Two Senate bills have been filed to address arcade games, such as those found at bowling alleys and Chuck E. Cheese, which might have gotten swept up in the frenzy to pass a bill shutting down so-called Internet cafes.
The first bill — proposed Senate committee bill 7052 — amends the portion of the law that deals with amusement games. The measure, which is part of a larger piece of legislation aimed at the state’s gaming system, defines an amusement game as something operated “only for bona fide entertainment of the general public.”
The measure allows players to use several different types of currency, including coins, tokens, cards or coupons, to operate the game. That’s a change from the measure passed last year, which said games should only be coin-operated.
The proposal also bumps up the amount a player can receive per round to $5.25 from 75 cents.
“It’s intended to minimize the unintended consequences from last year that put unintended restrictions on Chuck E. Cheese, Dave & Buster’s, bowling alleys and things of that nature,” said state Sen. Garrett Richter, R-Naples, chairman of the state Senate gaming committee.
The proposed changes don’t necessarily come as a surprise.
In December, Richter hinted that such a proposal might be in the works — especially after some lawmakers complained the crackdown on Internet cafes and adult arcades could be hurting more family-friendly companies.
In September, state Sen. Jack Latvala, R-St. Petersburg, told the 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. He also said the Department of Business and Professional Regulation threatened criminal action against a bowling alley unless arcade games were removed.
Richter said the gaming committee’s office “has been contacted by people on both sides of the issue” and took all of the opinions into account when drafting the measure.
The proposed committee bill does, however, continue to prohibit arcade games that may mimic a slot machine. The proposal clearly states “video poker games or any other game or machine that may be constructed as a gambling device” aren’t allowed.
The House has proposed its own gaming overhaul bill, which doesn’t address arcades.
“We passed a bill last year that did,” said House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel. “We thought, and our sheriffs’ offices and state attorneys agree with us, that it gave them the authority to shut (Internet cafes and adult arcades) down. It’s our understanding they’re starting to come back up again. I don’t know what we actually need to do to clarify the law.”
The proposed Senate gaming bill isn’t the only piece of arcade-related legislation floating around the Capitol.
Senate Bill 668, sponsored by state Sen. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, also looks to change the portion of the law that deals with arcade games.
Like the Senate gaming proposal, Stargel’s bill allows players to use other types of currency beyond coins to operate the games; increases the maximum payout to $5.25 from 75 cents, and allows machines to be placed in bowling alleys, hotels or restaurants.
Stargel’s measure is scheduled to go before the Senate gaming committee at 2:30 p.m. Monday.