Fiscal Policy Committee advances bill to crack down on illegal gambling

by | Feb 22, 2024

The Senate Committee on Fiscal Policy advanced legislation that would introduce stricter penalties, including felony charges for false impersonation of Gaming Control Commission staff and operating illegal gambling houses.

The Senate Committee on Fiscal Policy on Thursday moved forward with Senate Bill 1046, which seeks to reform Florida’s approach to illegal gambling.

If adopted, the legislation would criminalize the false impersonation of Florida Gaming Control Commission personnel, upgrading the classification of operating an illegal gambling house from a misdemeanor to a felony, and imposing stricter controls over the manufacture, sale, and distribution of illegal slot machines.

The bill would also curb advertisements for illegal gambling operations and sets forth penalties for the trafficking of slot machines, with penalties increasing based on the quantity involved. The measure further introduces felony charges for those knowingly transporting individuals to participate in illegal gambling, highlighting the bill’s comprehensive approach to deterrence.

“The Florida gaming Control Commission recorded 16,161 reports detailing instances of illicit slot machine gambling activities,” bill sponsor Sen. Jonathan Martin told the committee. “It’s crucial emphasize that illegal gambling machines offer no consumer protections and provide no guarantees of fair play, leaving individuals with zero recourse if an operator absconds with their hard earned money.”

During the committee’s deliberations, objections were raised by representatives from the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars, who expressed concerns over the potential for the bill to inadvertently penalize nonprofit gaming activities that are vital for their fundraising efforts. The groups advocated for clear regulatory guidance to ensure lawful operations are not affected.

“The American Legion of Veterans of Foreign Wars has to stand in opposition to this bill today because … the gaming statutes of the Florida Statutes are archaic conflicting, and there’s different interpretations of them,” the group representative said. “So we have to at this time, oppose the bill.”

Further criticism came from the Amusement Machine Association of Florida, which pointed out the bill’s lack of clarity on what defines an illegal gaming machine. This ambiguity, they argued, could lead to unintentional violations of the law by businesses unaware of the specifics and called for more robust educational efforts to distinguish between legal and illegal gaming activities.

“When you have different machines that are out there, from instant bingo machines to historical horse racing machines to skill based games, all of these things are different,” said Jonathan Zachem, representing the organization. Wwithout that clarity, increasing a penalty to try and deter an action when you don’t even know if the action is right or not, is a faulty way of approaching it.”


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