Illegal gambling is like cockroaches: You kill one and there are dozens more when it came from.
Back in 2013, a multi-state illegal gambling investigation embarrassed the Legislature, resulted in dozens of arrests and eventually took down a lieutenant governor.
Jennifer Carroll stepped down because, before her election, she provided public-relations representation to the company being investigated. Yup, she was never charged with a crime and yet just the past association cost her the job.
Some weeks later, lawmakers outlawed the strip-mall casinos known as internet cafes. Florida now prohibits any “device or system or network of devices” that plays like a slot machine, which – unless you were a South Florida pari-mutuel or the Seminole Tribe – was already illegal.
That was then.
These days, we have a lone circuit judge in Tallahassee that ruled a game that looks like a slot machine and basically plays like a slot machine isn’t a slot machine under Florida law.
Judge John Cooper, in a case first reported by FloridaPolitics.com reporter Jim Rosica, last month said the entertainment devices (ha!) known as “pre-reveal” games were “not an illegal slot machine or gambling device.”
Are we the least bit surprised that lawmakers, historically unable to pass the least kind of gambling reform, again let the courts make what’s essentially a major policy decision about betting?
“I see a giant wave coming,” said one unnamed person in Florida’s gambling industry. “My phone is blowing up from people (at pari-mutuels) who want these” pre-reveal games.
The judge’s ruling, taken to its logical conclusion, means pre-reveal games will pop up everywhere in the state: restaurants, bars, and probably other places where kids will be exposed to them. I have to think, in some way, that’s worse than giving slots to pari-mutuels in the handful of counties that passed a slots referendum.
Let’s cut to the chase: The House needs to reach a reasonable deal with the Senate to pass a gambling bill and regulate this stuff once and for all. Lawmakers cannot afford to allow for the thousands of pre-reveal games that will enter the state if nothing is done to stop them.
We know the drill. The pre-reveal game manufacturers will hire lobbyists, armed with the Cooper decision, and become a constituency that cannot be stopped if they are not banned this Session.
I won’t mention at length that the state allows “summer jai alai” permits, which turns into card rooms in hotels. And that the state Supreme Court still has not ruled on whether to allow slots in referendum counties.
It’s time for the Legislature to have courage and take action, rather than capitulating its authority to the courts and crafty gambling attorneys.
Reach a deal with the Tribe that limits gambling expansion for 20 years and regulate what we have. If a deal needs to include slots at referendum counties that have passed a referendum, so be it.
That’s still better than ruining the Florida brand by becoming Nevada, with pre-reveal “slots” at every restaurant, bar and gas station.