LANDERHILL, FL -- Some 40 adult arcades have reopened in Florida since the state's new anti-sweepstakes café law forced them to close in mid-April. Arcade operators are complying with the law by offering retrofitted coin-operated gaming devices and restricting prizes.
Florida's new law (HB 155), aimed at closing storefront online gambling operations known as Internet or sweepstakes cafés, unintentionally made it illegal for arcade games to award gift cards and prizes valued at more than 75¢, affecting not only low-stakes adult gaming venues, but also amusement arcades and prize-dispensing equipment.
The Sun Sentinel reports that paper towels and cookware are now among the types of prizes being offered at adult arcades. Reporting from the reopened Oasis Super Arcade and Bingo in Lauderhill, the paper reported: "Patrons once purchased credits at the counter, slid their players' cards into the machines and wagered about 8¢ per spin. If they accumulated enough points, they could turn them in for gift cards. Now, to comply with the new law, they can play only using dollar coins."
They can only credit machines with coins because of Florida's new gaming law prohibits the use of payment systems, on certain games, accepting banknotes, credit/debit cards and multifunctional smart cards (which might be used by a Dave & Buster's or family entertainment center).
When Gov. Rick Scott signed on April 10 the bill banning Internet cafés, there were only about 220 adult arcades in Florida, compared with more than 1,000 storefront sweeps cafés the law targeted. Adult arcades have been around since 1984, peaking at about 350, and reportedly operated legally under the so-called "Chuck E. Cheese law," which allows players to win prizes in games of skill.
Owners of sweepstakes cafés and adult arcades have filed lawsuits seeking to reverse or revise the law. Alan Dershowitz, Harvard law professor and political commentator, is representing a sweepstakes café owner. Dershowitz argues that the amended sweepstakes law violates the First Amendment by attacking freedoms of all local businesses, not just Internet cafés, to offer prizes for purchases, and by only allowing nationally advertised sweepstakes like a promotion at a fast-food restaurant.
Separately, the Florida Arcade and Bingo Association has filed an injunction against Dave & Buster's, claiming that it offers games of chance (not skill), pays out prizes greater than 75¢ and operates games activated by smart cards (not coins). The association has filed a similar suit against Boomers in Palm Beach County and said it plans to file one in every county with a restaurant-arcade store.
The association's attorney, Michael Wolf, said the legal strategy is to force the state to clamp down on family arcades to increase public resistance to the law. He told the Sun Sentinel: "Abraham Lincoln said it best: 'The best way to repeal a bad law is to strictly enforce it.'"