TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - The computer games at the core of businesses known as "Internet cafes" are now illegal in Florida.
Shortly after noon Wednesday behind closed doors, Gov. Rick Scott signed a bill that bans the slot machine look-alike games operated by Internet cafes, amusement arcades that are used up to 1,000 storefront operations across the state.
The Florida Legislature overwhelmingly passed the bill in the weeks after dozens of people were arrested in a illegal gambling, racketeering and money laundering investigation into Allied Veterans of the World, which operated about 50 of the Internet cafes, most in Northeast and Central Florida.
"You looked at the multi-state criminal conspiracy that Allied Veterans was involved in, they cracked down on illegal gaming. They've done the right thing," Scott said.
The new law will take effect immediately, but state officials say they will leave enforcement of the new law to local law-enforcement officials.
The storefront operations targeted by the bill currently allow customers to play sweepstakes games that simulate slot machines. But critics contend the new law will also lead to the closures of senior arcades.
Sen. John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine, said this isn't about large-scale raids on businesses.
"I've heard from some law enforcement officers that they'll go around if they're in operation they think they're doing illegal activities. They'll give them a warning, give them a chance to adjust," Thrasher said. "(This is) about sending out a message to folks that what constitutes gambling in the state of Florida is illegal. And when it is illegal we're going do something about it."
Because hundreds of businesses are expected to close as a result of the computer gaming ban, officials admit the law may put thousands of people out of work.
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