NASSAU COUNTY, Fla. – The Nassau County Board of Commissioners decided Monday evening to shut down adult arcades.
Commissioners voted to approve an ordinance that would prohibit simulated gambling devices found in internet cafes and identify gaming businesses as a public nuisance. The board agreed that the arcades should close in 60 days from Monday.
The vote comes after some Nassau County residents expressed concern that the arcades were bringing more crime to their neighborhoods, saying they had seen an uptick since Duval County shutdown adult arcades in October.
Before the vote Monday night, dozens of people spoke for two and a half hours during public comment at the Board of Commissioners meeting about why the arcades should close or stay open.
“We don’t need this out here. Amelia Island, Fernandina Beach (are) for tourists. We don’t want to be known as the arcade county of Florida,” Seber Newsome III, who has voiced opposition to the arcades, told News4Jax. “They are not good for anything, in my opinion.”
Katherine Parker, who goes to adult arcades, said: “I feel really bad because it’s going to put a lot of people out of jobs.”
The Nassau County Sheriff’s Office said it did an undercover study at 28 of the gaming facilities where they witnessed drug sales and prostitution.
“We purchased methamphetamine out of multiple locations of these gambling establishments. We had several detectives go in, and we also had purchases of heroin and crack cocaine,” said Sgt. Cedric Arline, with the Sheriff’s Office. “We also conducted simulations. We played the games."
The Sheriff’s Office said there has also been a significant amount of violent crimes, along with burglary and theft, in the last few years at businesses in Nassau County. Since 2015, according to the Sheriff’s Office, there have been 25 armed robberies at Nassau County businesses, six of which were game room armed robberies. The Sheriff’s Office said three of those six game room armed robberies occurred this year.
Others disagreed with the information, saying that there may have been calls to some arcades, but the arcades have gotten a bad reputation for one or two businesses.
Former state Rep. George Crady spoke out against the closure of adult arcades. Specifically, he said, the owner of Treasure Bay arcade is not apart of any problem.
“You are calling the owners of these game rooms a public nuisance,” Crady said. “He has not and never has been a public nuisance. He and his business have been a boom to Nassau County.”
Employees at the arcades spoke out, including Ashton Lanham, who depends on this job to help his family.
“I think that would have a definite impact versus what is currently going on,” Lanham said. “Also, I have a child on the way in two weeks. I am going to be without a job.”
During the meeting, there were also questions about helping arcade employees to find new jobs.
“What about them?" asked Benjamin Manning, who works at an arcade. "Are they going to do anything about that?”
Every commissioner spoke at Monday’s meeting, agreeing that they did not want people to lose their jobs at the arcades but also saying they have the responsibility of keeping the public safe. That’s why they said the ultimately voted to close the arcades.