Florida regulators warn Jacksonville officials on proposal to allow “adult arcades” over illegal gambling concerns

Florida regulators warn Jacksonville officials on proposal to allow “adult arcades” over illegal gambling concerns

The Florida Gaming Control Commission has issued a warning that a proposal to legalize “adult arcades” in Jacksonville could be illegal. These establishments, which feature casino-style electronic games, could run afoul of the state’s prohibition on slot machines in Duval County.

In a letter sent to city officials and retrieved by Florida Times-Union, commissioners said that should Jacksonville allow the return of the electronic games, having previously shut them down in 2019, it could conflict with the state law banning slots in most of the state.

In response, City Council member Garrett Dennis, who filed the legislation, now said he will defer the proposal until the office of General Counsel Jason Teal tells him whether or not the bill contains illegal gambling. “I do not want to put any of my colleagues in the position of voting on any illegal activity or sanctioning it as well,” Dennis wrote to Teal, as per the cited source.

For years now, Jacksonville and the State of Florida have wrestled with how to regulate establishments that utilize devices resembling casino-style games. In 2013, an investigation led to 57 illegal gambling arrests amid an alleged $300 million racketeering and money-laundering scheme involving the St. Augustine-based Allied Veterans of the World.

Allied Veterans ran dozens of gaming centers in Florida, and hours after the arrests, Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll resigned because of her connections to them, although she was never charged with a crime, recalls Times-Union. And three years ago, Jacksonville banned what it called “simulated gambling devices” after labeling them a public nuisance that fostered criminal activity.

Following the ban, between 140 and 160 businesses, also known as “internet cafes,” faced closure. These establishments, scattered across shopping centers and stand-alone buildings, were forced to shut down – but Dennis claims this had nothing to do with whether they violated gambling laws, and said he does not think the devices used there are slot machines.

The Gaming Commission’s letter casts doubt on this argument by raising the possibility that an allowance of adult arcades could be at odds with slot machines regulation. In the statement, Executive Director Louis Trombetta says slot machines in the state are “generally illegal,” remarking this form of gambling is not specifically allowed in Duval County.

The only way to allow slot machines in Duval County would be through a change to the state Constitution. In contrast, a city ordinance would have “no effect” on being able to legalize these machines, Trombetta said, while warning owners and operators of “adult arcades” offering illegal slot machine gaming should be aware of the civil and criminal consequences of such action.

Going forward, representatives of the Gaming Control Commission -which took over regulatory powers from the state Department of Business and Professional Regulation on July 1- plan to be at a public hearing Tuesday with the council’s Land Use and Zoning Committee.

Dennis’ bill seeks to limit the number of permits for such establishments to 20 locations while putting in place regulations for on-site armed security guards and security cameras. It also proposes not to issue permits to anyone who has been convicted of a felony or crime in a 10-year period before applying.