It is utterly fascinating to observe what moves legislatures to take a stand and prioritize a particular legislative agenda. This is especially true in the emotionally charged subject of gambling.
Recently, our legislative leaders scrambled to enact prohibitions of Internet cafes that have sprung up all over Florida during the past few years. These gambling parlors allow patrons to buy Internet time and then play sweepstakes games that are virtual slot machines. Some cafes disguise themselves as charitable endeavors claiming that the proceeds are used for charitable causes. It has been estimated that more than 1,000 of these places have been operating in the state.
Now that it has come to light that only a small percentage of the Internet cafes’ profits find their way into the coffers of charitable organizations, many legislators have expressed outrage. Legislation sailed through both houses very quickly. It will ban these fraudulent cafes. Hopefully, Gov. Scott will sign the prohibition into law shortly. This is all well and good, but where was the Legislature before these revelations came to light?
These Internet cafes have always been an embarrassment to our state. It’s especially embarrassing for a state that was supposed to be considering a rational state gaming policy for the past two years. Does studying an issue suspend the necessity for acting with common sense in the meantime? Lawmakers should not need to study more than five minutes to conclude that these sleazy, unregulated cafes should have been banned.
The scandal that has emerged was so inevitable that I only wish I could have bet on it. I am being facetious, of course, but I did call for the ban of these businesses over a year ago during a public presentation at a meeting of the New Miami Public Forum.
As an ex-regulator of casinos in the early days of Atlantic City and as someone who has been involved in the gaming business for almost 30 years, I can say with some authority that unregulated or under-regulated gaming is a nightmare waiting to happen. It is disappointing that the Legislature would allow this nightmare to happen on the eve of, what we hope will be, a detailed and professional study of the appropriate gaming policy for our state.
Bob Sturges, Coral Gables