Suit Alleges New Law Made Computers, Smartphones Illegal - By Accident

Florida legislators meant well in passing a law meant to halt rampant online gambling by banning Internet cafes, but a poor choice of words may have inadvertently outlawed computers, smartphones and any other device that can access the Internet. 

According to a lawsuit detailed online by CNN, Consuelo Zapata, owner of a Homstead Internet café recently shuttered by the new law, claims the wording of House Bill 155 is so over-encompassing that it could be understood as a ban on any device that connects to the Internet. While their public response was somewhat vague, one could argue that Zapata’s legal team shares their client’s sentiment.

“There are unintended consequences of hastily passed legislation in the wake of a scandal,” Zapata’s attorney said in a statement.

In effect, the law closes a loophole that allowed gambling centers to operate as Internet cafes and “adult arcades.” The new law bans devices that players can insert money or cards into to use for betting purposes and expands upon Florida’s definition of a “slot machine” as “any machine or device or system or network of devices” on which games of chance or skill can be played by not only inserting money, but also an “account number, code, or other object or information.”

The wrinkle, according to legal professionals, is that any device able to access the Internet can, in theory, be used to play illegal games online.

“The possibilities of going on the Internet and using your phone generally turns every single smartphone, computer, whatever, into an illegal slot machine,” Zapata’s attorney said. In giving an example, the attorney referenced a recent Budweiser ad campaign in which contestants can enter a code from a case of beer into a smartphone to see if they’re a winner, saying, “Clearly you have a device which is activated by input of a code that indirectly, by any element of chance, entitles you to a payout.”

The crackdown on gambling in Internet cafes throughout Florida came after a multi-year investigation into gambling cafes disguised as charitable organizations. Florida lawmakers scrambled to pass the law during the spring legislative session following statewide law enforcement raids of “storefront casinos” that, according to officials, allowed their patrons to partake in illegally operated computer games that were “akin to slot machines.” In addition to 57 arrests, Florida Lt. Governor Jennifer Carroll resigned her position once it came to light that she had done consulting work for a group at the center of the investigation.