Published: February 2, 2024

Florida House advances bill targeting illegal gambling, but faces scrutiny over unintended consequences

A House bill aimed at addressing concerns related to illegal gambling operations in Florida has successfully passed its second committee, though lingering apprehensions persist regarding unintended consequences and potential ambiguity.

HB 189, which recently gained approval from the House Appropriations Committee, focuses on escalating penalties for operating unlawful gambling establishments and illegal slot machinesFlorida Politics reported.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Michelle Salzman, seeks to impose fines for violations and prohibits the advertisement of unauthorized betting establishments.

Salzman asserted that the legislation addresses the infiltration of adult arcades and internet cafes into communities, aiming to cut off financial support for illicit activities such as drug trade and human trafficking. The bill also aims to protect consumers from the addictive nature of gambling on machines lacking proper consumer protection.

Despite passing the committee, the bill faced resistance and concerns from several members, including Reps. Dan Daley, Christopher Benjamin, Mike Gottlieb, and Patricia Williams. Williams expressed wariness about unintended consequences and communicated a desire to find compromises to support the bill.

Daley raised concerns about the broad language of the bill, suggesting that it might ensnare individuals unknowingly. Gottlieb focused on language related to managers, expressing worries about low-level managers being unaware of gaming violations.

Salzman defended the bill, emphasizing that it includes the term "knowingly" in the statute concerning charges against managers in establishments with illegal slot machines. However, Benjamin highlighted that even if charges are ultimately dropped, a felony interaction could still negatively impact individuals' lives.

A representative from the amusement machine industry, Jonathan Zachem, voiced concerns about unintended consequences and potential strain on local resources, arguing that managers unaware of gaming violations could burden the criminal justice system, the report said.

Salzman's bill would elevate the penalty for maintaining a gambling house from a second-degree misdemeanor to a third-degree felony. The legislation also establishes penalties for trafficking in slot machines, with fines collected allocated to the Pari-mutuel Wagering Trust Fund for enforcement efforts by the Florida Gaming Control Commission.

The bill, which has cleared two committees, is set to proceed to the Judiciary committee. A comparable Senate bill (SB 1046) has cleared one of its three committee stops.

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