It is one thing to protect seniors from scams — which the Legislature’s proposed Internet cafe ban would do — but another to remove legal avenues to the low-stakes entertainment offered at senior arcades; doing so would accomplish nothing more than drive seniors into the arms of real casinos, with real stakes and bottomless slots. Gaming lobbyists dream? Seems so. But this wouldn’t have worked for my grandmother, whose social life was enhanced by penny games and weekly Bingo; and it shouldn’t work for this Legislature as they seek to crack down on the real culprits.
In 2006, courts ruled that senior arcades are not gambling institutions, yet gaming lobbyists effectively incorporated senior arcades into this year’s bill; a move that, according to the Florida Arcade Association, unfairly groups these centers with the illegal activities of Internet cafes in the hopes of eliminating all forms of gaming competition.
Unlike Internet cafes — but just like Chuck E. Cheese — patrons at senior arcades play games requiring the application of skill and receive redemption tokens that are turned in for low-cost, non-cash prizes. And unlike in Internet cafes or casinos, seniors can play these games for pennies.
“We are Dave and Buster’s, except our kids are in their 70s and 80s,” says Gale Fontaine, president of the Florida Arcade Association, who authored an April 1 letter to President Gaetz and Speaker Weatherford in the attempt to draw these distinctions.
Florida is home to more than 200 arcades, most of which are small family-owned businesses, and all of which are regulated and pay taxes. Seniors don’t attend with the hope of striking gold, but go to socialize, play and eat with friends.
With this unexpected fight on its hands, the Florida Arcade Association has brought on Sachs Media Group to help make the case and have launched the “Save Our Arcades” campaign. Sachs is no stranger to these issues: In 2012 they waged an award-winning campaign with the Chamber of Commerce to oppose mega-casinos.
In my view, the ban on Internet cafes is appropriate. But allowing a marginal turf war waged by industry giants to close seniors out of entertainment arcades is an unnecessary casualty in the process. Casinos can claim enough victims on their own.