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Florida Gambling Law Makes Internet Illegal

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Someone noticed a law passed in April in our state may have the unintended consequence of blocking all Internet use in Florida, instead of just stopping illegal online gambling. The Bill, HB 155, was meant to stop Internet Cafes from using networked computers to allow gambing in their facilities. The networks may or may not have used the Internet, but the way the law defines “networked computers,” it doesn’t matter – both become illegal.

The troubling language defines a slot machine as “any machine or device of system or network of devices” that can be used for gambling. While making computers that mimic slot machines illegal, they are just computers, doing what computers do - normal computers running gaming software. But, as any computer geek will tell you, one of the things that make computers so handy is that any machine can run software to mirror another machine. The result is that even home computers connected to the Internet fit the definition and are now, technically, illegal. They are, after all, “machines that can be used for gambling.”

The original legislation was enacted after a huge scandal in Florida. A front organization, billing itself as a charity, was using loopholes in Florida law to run storefront gambling operations. The “cafes” would have row after row of laptops, all running gambling software. The Allied Veterans of the World, is alleged to have collected $300 million using this technique, with only $6 million actually going to charity. The scandal caused the resignation of then Lieutenant Governor Jennifer Carroll.

The new law did its job – more than a thousand of these gambling cafes were shut down. But a lawsuit, hoping to get the law thrown out on constitutional grounds, points out how the broad definition makes even a home PC, connected to the Internet, a possible “gaming machine” under the law.

It is unknown whether the law can be repaired or whether the use of computers for gambling will be too difficult to pin down to make effective legislation.


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