TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - Florida legislators voted overwhelmingly Thursday to ban storefront gaming operations, a quick response to a scandal that led to dozens of arrests and the lieutenant governor's resignation.
The bill is now headed to the desk of Gov. Rick Scott, who said he will sign it. The operations, commonly called "Internet cafes," sell customers time online at computer terminals that feature sweepstakes games that simulate slot machines.
The Florida Senate approved the measure on a 36-4 vote Thursday. The Florida House had already approved it.
A handful of legislators opposed the bill because they said it went too far and would result in the closure of senior arcades. The bill (HB 155) would prohibit the use of gift cards, which the arcades have used to pay winners.
The Legislature is feeling pressure to act after an investigation into the Allied Veterans of the World charity. It was accused of running a $290 million illegal gambling business that directed most of the proceeds into its owners' pockets. Law enforcement authorities last month arrested nearly 60 people affiliated with Allied.
Former Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll, who had done consulting work for the charity, resigned after she was interviewed as part of that same investigation. She has not been accused of any wrongdoing.
Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, R-Miami, said legislators were responding to what he called "mass hysteria" surrounding that investigation.
But Sen. John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine and one of the bill sponsors, said lawmakers were making sure that "unscrupulous operators" were not taking advantage of loopholes in order to carry out illegal gambling.
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