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Pre-reveal games ban barely survives in House

A bill to ban pre-reveal games, slot machine-style entertainment consoles, was rescued Thursday in a procedural move after it initially failed on a tie vote.

The measure (HB 1367) now is available for the floor after a subsequent motion in the House Commerce Committee to reconsider the bill won the day.

The pre-reveal concept has flummoxed courts and lawmakers trying to determine whether they’re illegal gambling. Tallahassee-based Circuit Judge John Cooper’s ruling that they’re illegal slots is under appeal. That was after Cooper first said they were legal.

The Seminole Tribe of Florida, which has exclusive rights to offer slots outside South Florida, is attempting to shut down the games because it believes they violate that exclusivity.

The appeal had Rep. Joe Geller, an Aventura Democrat, asking why the courts shouldn’t be allowed to decide the issue before the Legislature steps in. Other states, including Indiana and North Carolina, have found pre-reveal games to be illegal gambling.

“I’m generally a proponent of gambling, even though it’s not something I particularly enjoy … but people ought to have the right,” Geller also told fellow legislators. The games are almost exclusively found in bars and taverns. 

“It sounds to me like it is entertainment, (and) if that’s what somebody wants to spend money on to pass the time,” it should be allowed, he added. 

But bill sponsor Scott Plakon, a Longwood Republican, said it’s the Legislature’s prerogative to lay down the law as to the games. His proposal expressly makes them illegal under state gambling law.

Lawmakers continue to puzzle over why people spend money on such games, which “preview” certain outcomes as to their winning or losing status.

Kathey Bright Fanning of Jacksonville’s Gator Coin II, one of the companies behind the games, said the “preview button must be hit after you place a bet.” Northeast Florida is largely the home of the pre-reveal games, also called ‘no chance’ games. 

In legal filings, however, the Tribe’s lawyers have argued pre-reveal players are “not wagering for the already revealed outcome, but rather on the next outcome, which is unknown.”

Players “are not … merely spending money to see spinning reels and flashing lights,” one brief said. “Rather, it is a slot machine, with which players are wagering on an unknown, unpredictable outcome” that they may or may not win.

As Fanning told the committee, “The Seminole Tribe got involved. Then the judge changed his mind.”

Written By

Jim Rosica is the Tallahassee-based Senior Editor for Florida Politics. He previously was the Tampa Tribune’s statehouse reporter. Before that, he covered three legislative sessions in Florida for The Associated Press. Jim graduated from law school in 2009 after spending nearly a decade covering courts for the Tallahassee Democrat, including reporting on the 2000 presidential recount. He can be reached at jim@floridapolitics.com.

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