Sen. Garrett Richter, R-Naples, the chairman of the Senate Gaming Committee, said he was unaware of the criminal record of some of the people who testified before his committee but said it serves as another reason to pass the legislation.
These are not legitimate operations, he said. We dont know whos running them or who owns them.
Bill Bunkley of the Florida Ethics and Religious Liberty Committee said that the absence of regulation makes it impossible for anyone to know whether people with criminal records are clean operators or preying on vulnerable people.
Its an embarrassment that this has been operating under the radar, he said. Part of the branding of Florida is its retirement-safe community, but weve got an ever-increasing population that is vulnerable and you have to wonder how many of them are getting taken advantage of.
For five years, Sen. Jeremy Ring, D-Margate, sponsored a bill that would have shut down illegal Internet cafes, regulated adult arcades and streamlined the states gambling laws under a gaming commission. But, he said, the effort was killed by the adult arcades industry and its leader, Gale Fontaine.
She had a chance to fix this and she fought it, he said. If it had passed, there would be no Internet cafes today and adult arcades would be regulated and taxed.
Now Fontaine, 63, owner of GF Amusements in Pompano Beach, which operates adult arcades and Internet cafes in South Florida, is one of the most outspoken critics of the bill before the Senate. She has testified frequently urging legislators to carve out an exception for the arcade games, which dont give out cash prizes but which give people gift cards in return for repeated play.
We are not a gambling center; we are an entertainment center, said Fontaine, who was acquitted of charges related to running an illegal gambling house.
Patel, the Lucky Ducks II owner, said she supports requiring background checks on owners and staff and regulations on her business.
What the Allied Veterans have done is horrific, she said. They could stop the people that are racketeering just do like Vegas does and get a background check on every person including the owner. Half the places will probably shut down, but it wont kill the good ones.
Patel has organized a petition drive and plans to bring a large group of supporters to Tallahassee Thursdayto push for legislative leniency. She knows the odds are against them, but her customers may play one last card, she said. They plan to vote the senators out if this happens.