How do you solve a problem like illegal gambling? Well you certainly don’t pass a bill that is so poorly worded that it, in effect, could be applied to ban all internet access, computers and most modern electronic equipment. But, it appears, Florida may have done just that.
So says a lawsuit filed this week in Miami-Dade Circuit Court on behalf of Incredible Investments, LLC, owned by Consuelo Zapata.
The cause of this dates back to March when Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll (R) — better known for her outrageous “lesbians don’t look like me” comment — was forced to resign from office after accusations of her links to companies using Internet cafes to launder money lost her the support of the presiding Republican administration.
The Florida Legislature, Republican controlled and keen to distance itself from the scandal, swiftly passed a law designed to, in essence, ban slot machines and Internet gambling cafes.
Florida’s 1000 such Internet cafes soon closed. End of the matter, right?
Wrong, or so says lawyers acting on behalf of Incredible Investments. They claim Florida’s lawmakers did such a bad job of defining precisely what it is they wanted to ban they have effectively banned all computers and smartphones and possibly many more electronic devices that could ever be used for gambling.
Why? Because the Florida Legislature defined the ban as applying to any ”system or network of devices” that may be used in a game of chance. Here’s the relevant part of the clause that appears in the senate version of the bill that was signed into law by Governor Rick Scot in April:
[...] the term “slot machine or device” means any machine or device or system or network of devices that is adapted for use in such a way that, upon activation, which may be achieved by, but is not limited to, the insertion of any piece of money, coin, account number, code, or other object or information, such device or system is directly or indirectly caused to operate or may be operated and if the user, whether by application of skill or by reason of any element of chance or of any other outcome unpredictable by the user [...]
As the law had previously been written, again this can be seen in the senate amended bill, the language included terms like “machine” and “operation”.
The Legislature, in attempting to include electronic and online gambling, struck these, and it is here that the problem seems to have arisen. They failed to account for the fact that “system” and “device” applies to so much more than just gambling machines and online gambling tools but all computers and smartphones.
Now, there are a few caveats in the bill but none of them would appear to adequately define the scope of the ban.
“They rushed to judgment and they took what they saw as a very specific problem and essentially criminalized everything,” Justin Kaplan, who is representing Zapata’s Incredible Investments, is quoted as saying. Plaintiffs contend that the law is in fact so broad that it makes illegal the very computers “[lawmakers] used to draft this legislation.”
Of course Incredible Investments, LLC, has a vested interest in overturning this ban as it ran cafés that were subsequently closed by the law.
It seems more lawsuits are now in the works though, with lawyers even working to have the law strictly enforced so as to raise the ire of larger arcades and businesses so that a slew of challenges will be made.
However Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford, one of the main supporters of the bill, isn’t apologizing and contends this is still a good law.
“I am proud that we shut down the illegal Internet cafes in Florida,” he said. “It’s good policy and I’m only disappointed it took this long to do it.”
So let us spare a thought for our friends in Florida who may be reading this article illicitly. Thank you for running the risk and logging on to Care2.
Image credit: Thinkstock.