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Judge denies injunction sought by senior arcades

A federal judge refused Tuesday to block enforcement of Florida’s new video gambling law, rejecting arguments by the owners of two Broward senior arcades that the measure is unconstitutionally vague and violates the First Amendment rights of their elderly customers.

U.S. District Judge James I. Cohn refused to issue a preliminary injunction sought by the arcade owners, whose arcades — like hundreds of others across the state — shut down last month following the Legislature’s enactment of the broad new law banning “casino-style games” outside of legally approved casinos.

“The phrase ‘casino-style games’ has a common or ordinary meaning that is known to the general population,” Cohn wrote in his decision, noting that the arcades themselves use the phrase ’’casino-style gaming” in some of their advertising.

He also dismissed the argument that, if the law forced the arcades to close, it violated a First Amendment “right of association” of customers to mingle together while playing the games. “If senior citizens desire to associate and play ‘casino-style games,’ they may still meet at local casinos to do so,” Cohn wrote.

Cohn’s ruling came four days after attorneys for the arcade, the state of Florida and the Seminole Indian tribe — which intervened in the case on the state’s side to protect its casino interests — argued the case in his Fort Lauderdale courtroom.

The arcade owners asked Cohn to block enforcement of the law so they can stay open while their lawsuit seeking to overturn it moves through the courts, a process that will take months if not longer. The arcade owners can appeal his refusal, but their attorneys said they haven’t decided whether to do that.

At issue are video games that, at least superficially, resemble the video slot machines played in casinos. Arcade owners say the internal workings of their games allow players to exercise skill and are different than those of slot machines, which are pure games of chance.

Though some police departments considered the machines illegal even before the new law passed last month, they were widely tolerated, and arcade owners had considerable success defending themselves when forced to do so in court.

But the arcade owners fear they may be swept up by the law passed hurriedly in April after a scandal over political donations by so-called Internet cafes — where computers were set up for gambling — threatened to envelop the Legislature.

Lawmakers not only outlawed “casino-style” games but limited prizes to a value of 75 cents, and made violation a second-degree felony punishable by a maximum 15-year prison sentence.