Whoops! Florida Accidentally Bans Computers and Smartphones

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An effort to ban illegal gambling may have hit the mark, but also a lot more than it intended.

I’m apparently breaking the law by writing this.

A new law in my state declared my laptop an illegal slot machine — even though I’ve never played or installed any kind of slots game on it. If you live in Florida, as I do, you’re also breaking the law just by reading this.

That’s according to a lawsuit filed by Consuelo Zapata, who owned an Internet cafe that was shut down by the new law, the Tampa Bay Times says.

HB 155, Prohibition of Electronic Gambling Devices, was meant to shut down gambling dens posing as Internet cafes. So far it’s closed about a thousand cafes, but it’s not clear how many of those were actually places for gambling. Some may have served low-income families who can’t afford computers and an extra monthly bill. Zapata’s Miami cafe was primarily used by migrant workers who needed computer access, the Times says.

And what’s funny about Florida is that gambling isn’t completely illegal here — we have plenty of casinos and race tracks. (Elsewhere, states are encouraging gambling by selling lottery tickets at gas pumps and ATMs.) The problem is that the legislation was written in a rush and poorly worded. As TechDirt puts it, “The bill’s definitions section is a complete mess.” See for yourself:

As used in this chapter, the term “slot machine or device” means any machine or device or system or network of devices… that is adapted for use in such a way that, upon activation… such device or system is directly or indirectly caused to operate or may be operated and if the user, whether by application of skill or by reason of any element of chance or any other outcome unpredictable by the user him or her, may….
(a) Receive or become entitled to receive any piece of money, credit, allowance, or thing of value, or any check, slug, token, or memorandum, whether of value or otherwise, which may be exchanged for any money, credit, allowance, or thing of value or which may be given in trade; or

(b) Secure additional chances or rights to use such machine, apparatus, or device, even though the device or system may be available for free play or, in addition to any element of chance or unpredictable outcome of such operation, may also sell, deliver, or present some merchandise, indication of weight, entertainment, or other thing of value. The term “slot machine or device” includes, but is not limited to, devices regulated as slot machines pursuant to chapter 551.

Owners of senior video arcades, which have been targeted under the law, have gone to court asking that it be enforced at family-friendly arcades such as Boomers and Dave & Busters, too. The Miami Herald says. It’s part of a strategy to build a coalition against the law.

AARP has also blocked Florida residents from participating in some sweepstakes events because of the law, the Herald says.

While lawmakers presumably had good intentions, what they passed is going to trigger silly legal battles on all sides.

Stacy Johnson

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