Gov. Rick Scott’s signing of House Bill 155 last week effectively banned all Internet cafés and adult arcades, but owners are not going down without a fight.
“We’re in the process of exploring and challenging the constitutionality of the law,” said Michael Wolfe, an attorney for the Florida Arcade Association. “We explored with local law enforcement to see their interpretation of the new law. The challenge may take the form of a class action suit.”
Both business owners and law enforcement are taking a wait-and-see approach to their next move in the battle. More than 200 businesses closed across the state when Scott signed the bill Wednesday, according to the Florida Arcade Association. The Players Club Arcade in Englewood was among them.
Josh Molina, manager of the Players Club Arcade, said he was hoping for a last-minute change in the law before it was signed.
“We’ve been running the place for four years and paid our taxes,” Molina said. “Our customers have been very supportive and they’re upset about what happened. (The customers) said (the people in the state government) forgot that they (can) vote. The customers said they will make their voices known come next election.”
Like Molina, café and arcade owners have been operating for years with little attention from the state. All that changed with the resignation of Florida Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll in March, after law enforcement officials questioned her about her ties to a veterans charity at the center of a $300 million illegal gambling investigation. The state Legislature then went after so-called “strip-mall casinos” that lawmakers say have been skirting anti-gambling laws by claiming that players were taking part in games of skill or participating in “sweepstakes” but not gambling.
Former employees out of work
The Players Club Arcade had five employees, including two single mothers, according to Molina. The Cape Coral resident said all his employees were from Englewood.
“With all the unemployment, it makes no sense that this bill gives (the now unemployed people) back to the state, killing 15,000 jobs plus any others involved with the industry,” he said. “My advice for (my employees) was to start looking for work because we don’t know how long this will take.”
The Island Oasis Arcade Club in Venice also closed its doors Wednesday. “We’re filing our tax papers now,” said manager Terri Anders. “I know some injunctions are being filed. We’re keeping an eye out. In the meantime, we’re emailing everyone about being closed.”
“I feel bad for the customers,” Anders said. “All the arcade employees will have to file for unemployment.”
Jason Honea, who lives in Sarasota, owns four Internet cafés — Lil Vegas in Venice, Lucky Ducky and Lucky Shamrock in Sarasota, and Players Club is Osprey. He said a few of his employees were looking for work with no luck while the rest are trying to wait it out.
“The issue doesn’t seem to matter with the politicians,” Honea said. “We had to shut down operations. We’re waiting to see how the process sorts itself out.” Kings Club Casino in Port Charlotte had seven employees.
“We’re pretty much out of business,” said Chad Schuler, one of the owners. “We’re in a bad spot. It happened so fast we had no time to prepare. We had everything invested in this. We don’t know what we’re going to do. We’ve been talking to Florida Arcade Association to file an injunction.”
Local enforcement coming soon
Ed Brodsky, state attorney for the 12th Circuit Court, said he’s taken a preliminary look at the law and will meet with law enforcement officials to decide a course of action.
“We’re reviewing the law, then contacting the 17 establishments (in the county) for what they’re doing in compliance of the law,” said Jennifer Griffin, Charlotte County Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman. “We don’t have an active time frame, but after our consultation with the State Attorney’s Office, we’ll be enforcing the law.”
The Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office will be taking a similar approach.
“First step will be for attorneys to review it to determine what specifically is illegal and how we need to enforce the law,” said Wendy Rose, SCSO spokeswoman. “Then we will meet with the State Attorney’s Office to determine what their requirements will be regarding prosecution. Then we will educate the public about what is legal/illegal. After a short grace period to come into compliance (or close up shop) we will begin taking action where warranted.”
For more information on the Florida Arcade Association, go to saveourarcades.com.
For more information on HB 155, go to myfloridahouse.gov/Sections/Bills/billsdetail. aspx?BillId=49372