Florida Law to Stiffen Penalties for Illegal Gaming Passes House Committee

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In an aerial view, the City of Miami skyline on September 29, 2021 in Miami, Florida. Joe Raedle/Getty Images/AFP

Representative Michelle Salzman has sponsored a bill that would increase penalties on illegal gaming in the Sunshine State. However, some legislators believe it could lead to overzealous prosecution of unknowing individuals.

Let’s explore the primary concerns outlined in the proposal and assess the potential implications for the sportsbook industry.

Dropping the Hammer

HB 189, a bill advanced by Representative Michelle Salzman, has recently passed its second committee, the Florida House Appropriations Committee. It is now winding its way through the legislature. If successful, the bill would increase penalties for operating illegal gambling parlors and slot machines while prohibiting any advertising of these unlawful establishments.

Furthermore, HB 189 would target the manufacture, sale and possession of illegal slot machines, escalating the criminal penalties from misdemeanors to third-degree felonies. Trafficking and transporting individuals for the purposes of illegal gambling and impersonating government personnel of the Florida Gaming Control Commission would also be considered a third-degree felony offense.

“These adjustments are essential to send a clear message that our state is committed to eradicating this illicit gaming activity and safeguarding the welfare of its residents,” said Salzman.

Not Everyone’s a Fan

Representative Salzman’s bill got pushback from several of her colleagues with many concerned that those low-level managers who are unaware of the illegality of the slot machines in their facilities could embroil them in felony charges when they assume the establishment at which they are employed is legal and above board.

Salzman countered that argument by saying, “The bill specifically says knowingly and willingly,” she said. “If you are the manager on duty [at an internet cafe], you are not knowingly and willingly committing that crime, and that is easy to that is that should be easy to prove.”

Jonathan Zachem, representing the Amusement Machine Association of Florida, argued that the passage of such a bill would have “unintended consequences”.

He also added, “Two sections that we’re very concerned about have to do with the application of [the term] manager and how the felony can be applicable to that term. For your big actors, I understand where they’re trying to go to, but a manager for a location that might have five machines isn’t their principal type of business. It can be a convenience store where on the way to the bathroom, you’ve got a kiosk for lottery and ATM and some machines that are there.”

Zachem also pointed out that the definition of the machines can vary from county to county and that the status of a slot-style machine can differ from an actual slot machine. Such ambiguities would be confusing to law enforcement and the public at large.

Representative Christopher Benjamin also voiced his displeasure at the bill, stating, “Yes, I can defend myself but there used to be a saying that, you might beat the charge, but you can’t beat the ride.” This alludes to the cost of defending one’s self as well as future employment or loans that could be subject to background checks, which would reveal a felony arrest even though the charges were ultimately dropped.

“I don’t think we should be doing that to folks who have no idea of what’s going on,” Benjamin added.

Bookmakers Review will continue to monitor this story and update our readers as events unfold.