JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Time's up for adult arcades in Jacksonville.
Sunday at 11:59 p.m. marked the deadline for the businesses to shut down, several months ahead of Feb. 1, 2020, the date they were originally told to cease operations.
Dewayne Williams is the operator of Copa and Cabana, two adult arcades off Normandy Boulevard. Both are open 24 hours.
"We have 700 people coming in every day," Williams said. "That was a name we started out with years ago with sweepstakes. We give you a card. You take your card, and you go to the orange box. You put money on the card, then you play. If you win, you get paid. It's not a slot machine by any means. It's not really gambling, if you get down to it, because that's how the sweepstakes rule reads. They are not even close to slots. They are not gambling."
Williams said between the two game rooms, he has 18 employees. All will be without jobs at midnight.
"I am going to miss it. I wish the City Council would act like the government they ought to and look at this thing and say: ‘Hey, let's give these people to February, let's get them through the holidays. We don't need to put 2,700 people out of work right now," Williams said
Williams is not alone in his frustration. A "Save our Jobs" protest was held over the weekend. Those employees had asked the city to reverse their plan to shut down so early and to allow the workers to keep working through the original February deadline. City leaders have long contended that the reason behind the decision to shut down is a rise in crime and other safety concerns.
Richard Vigilante, a Copa customer, said he has been going to the game room since it opened almost 12 years ago.
"Twice a week. I limit myself to $20," Vigilante said.
Vigilante said he would not go to the game room if operators took away the cash prizes and instead gave away merchandise, an option some arcade owners have suggested as a compromise to avoid being shut down.
"I don't need merchandise. I come for the enjoyment of playing," Vigilante said.
The deadline for adult arcades to remove their machines is Monday.