Florida Senate Toughens Penalties for Illegal Gambling Operations

Florida Illegal Gambling

The Florida State Senate cracked down on illegal gambling on Wednesday by passing Senate Bill 1046. This bill is aimed at increasing penalties for operating unlicensed gambling businesses.

Florida Senate lawmakers have approved a bill against business owners knowingly operating unlicensed slot machines.

Florida Illegal Gambling

This legislative action is part of the ongoing efforts to combat illegal and gray gaming in the Sunshine State. Senate Bill 1046, championed by State Senator Jonathan Martin (R-Lee), seeks to elevate the penalties for running an illegal gambling establishment.

The proposed changes include upgrading the offense from a second-degree misdemeanor to a third-degree felony. For repeat offenders, the penalty escalates to a second-degree felony on the second offense and a first-degree felony on the third and subsequent offenses.

A third-degree felony carries penalties of up to $5,000 in fines and a maximum prison term of five years.

Senate Bill 1046 secured 31 votes in the 40-member Senate and will now advance to the House of Representatives for further consideration.

Attention to Offenders

Before reaching the Senate floor vote, Martin’s bill underwent amendments in response to concerns raised by the House. Lawmakers in the House, who considered a similar SB 1046 measure, expressed reservations about the severity of the language in the statute.

There was apprehension that individuals found not guilty in a court of law on an illegal gambling charge might still face consequences. This is because employment and mortgage applications often mandate the disclosure of felony arrests.

In response to these concerns, a crucial amendment was introduced. The amendment aims to ensure that law enforcement issues a cease-and-desist letter to suspects running unlawful gambling enterprises before pursuing any felony charges.

Martin emphasized the need for individuals not to face severe consequences without prior notice. He stated, “The goal is not to throw people in prison who are not knowingly committing crimes.”

Cease-and-Desist Protocol

Cease-and-desist letters, under the proposed amendments, would be issued by the Florida Gaming Control Commission. The alleged illegal gambling operations would be required to cease within seven days of receiving the notice.

Senator Martin, representing Lee County, where numerous gray machines operate in arcades, clarified that the legislation does not target establishments like Dave & Buster’s, covered under Florida’s Family Amusement Games Act. Instead, the focus is on “777” arcades commonly found in retail strip malls, which claim legality based on being skill-based devices.

These arcades argue that their machines comply with the law due to their skill-based nature. However, law enforcement has cracked down on some, acknowledging the widespread issue. The introduction of stricter penalties is seen as a potential deterrent to reduce the prevalence of these businesses operating under the “777” model.

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Author: Christopher Sanchez