Gambling Law Accidentally Outlaws Internet

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A law passed in April in Florida may have the unintended consequence of blocking all Internet use in the state, instead of just stopping illegal online gambling.

The bill, HB 155, was targeted at gambling operations run out of Internet Cafes which used the Internet and other means to give customers access to gambling.

Broad definition of 'slot machine' problematic

The troubling language that was apparently missed until now defines a slot machine as “any machine or device of system or network of devices” that can be used for gambling. The intent was to make electronic devices that mimic slot machines illegal, despite the machines really being normal computers running gaming software.

But, as any computer geek will tell you, one of the things that make computers so handy is that any machine can run software to mirror another machine. The result is that normal, home computers connected to the Internet fit the definition and are now, technically, illegal. They are, after all, “machines that can be used for gambling.”

The scandal that sparked this legislation

The original legislation was enacted after a huge scandal in Florida. A front organization, billing itself as a charity, was using loopholes in Florida law to run storefront gambling operations. The “cafes” would have row after row of laptops, all running gambling software. The Allied Veterans of the World is alleged to have collected $300 million using this technique, with only $6 million actually going to charity. The scandal caused the resignation of then Lieutenant Governor Jennifer Carroll.

The new law did its job – more than 1,000 of these gambling cafes were shut down. But a lawsuit, hoping to get the law thrown out on constitutional grounds, points out how the broad definition makes even a home PC, connected to the Internet, a possible “gaming machine.”

It is unknown whether the law can be repaired or whether the use of computers for gambling will be too difficult to pin down to make effective legislation.

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