This spring, Florida lawmakers voted to ban Internet cafes that facilitated online gambling in the state. But in doing so, they might have accidentally also banned all computers and smartphones, one lawsuit now alleges.
The bill "Prohibition of Electronic Gambling Devices," which was signed into law by Governor Rick Scott in April, "revises provisions relating to drawings by chance offered by nonprofit organizations, game promotions in connection with sale of consumer products or services, amusement games or machines, amusement centers, racketeering activity, & promotional offers ..."
It defines a "slot machine or device" that could be used for gambling as a "system or network of devices that is adapted for use in such a way that [...] the insertion of any piece of money" could result in receiving "money, credit, allowance, or thing of value" or additional chances. The owner of one recently shut down Internet cafe is arguing this definition makes the law "unconstitutional and therefore unenforceable."
The Miami Herald reported Incredible Investments owner, Consuelo Zapata, launching a lawsuit against the state attorney for Miami-Dade County, saying that as the law defines it, computers and other mainstream devices that connect to the Internet, like smartphones, could also be used for gambling.
“They rushed to judgment and they took what they saw as a very specific problem and essentially criminalized everything,” Justin Kaplan with the Miami law firm of Kluger, Kaplan, Silverman, Katzen & Levine, which is representing Zapata, said according to the Herald.
"As amended, Section 849.16, Florida Statutes includes a presumption that any device, system, or network like the Plaintiff’s computers that displays images of games of chance is an illegal slot machine," the complaint stated.
The Tampa Bay Times reported Kaplan saying that the legislature's own computers used to even draft this law would be considered illegal under it:
Kaplan said the law's uneven enforcement violates the constitutional protections of due process. For example, while Zapata is banned from operating her computers under the law, other companies that provide access to the Internet are not. For example, the state could argue that "Starbucks is running illegal slot machines because they provide their customer with a Wi-Fi system that indirectly allows people to gain access to their phone to allow them to play games of chance that allow payouts,'' he said.
A similar argument is being made by a coalition of owners of senior video arcades who are orchestrating a series of lawsuits across the state. They argue the prosecutors are engaging in selective enforcement of Florida's sweeping new ban on video gambling and the law should also be applied to upscale arcade chains such as Dave & Busters and Boomers.
The Herald reported that the law was in response to a charity organization running Internet cafes that involved in illegal gambling, which led to the arrests of more than two dozen people on racketeering and money-laundering charges. Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll was tied with consulting for the organization and ended up resigning as a result of the scandal.
Featured image via Shutterstock.com.