Yes, they seem shady. Heavily tinted windows and “Internet Cafe” plastered across their storefronts. That’s the world of adult game rooms, and that’s what may be back on the table in Jacksonville. A bill to bring back adult game rooms in Jacksonville has met resistance.
The city of Jacksonville has seen a recent increase in underground gaming machines. Adult game rooms were banned in the city in 2019 because law enforcement resources were stretched too then to manage them properly.
A bill sponsored by Jacksonville City Councilmember Garett Dennis would bring 20 legal adult game rooms back to Jacksonville. Dennis told local media it would give residents a fun outlet. At least one council member isn’t happy about the idea.
In an email to PlayFL, Councilmember LeAnna Cumber said bringing back the game rooms means bringing back more crime.
“Illegal adult arcades are magnets for crimes like robbery and trafficking because those operating are criminals violating the law. Even when they were legal, they were a magnet for crime because of the nature of them being an all-cash business and the clientele they are attracting.”
PlayFL reached out to Dennis for comment but did not hear back before publishing.
Why Dennis wants to legalize adult arcades
The Florida sports betting issue has taught the country that legalizing something is sometimes the best way to protect consumers. Through regulations, lawmakers can gain some control over illegal activities. It also allows law enforcement to focus its efforts on arresting bad actors.
If sports betting is illegal in your state, you might place a bet with an unreliable bookie. Win big and the bookie may choose not to pay out. But place a bet with a legal sportsbook and you’re virtually guaranteed to get your money. At the very least, you have legal options available to hold the sportsbook accountable.
Dennis sees adult arcades the same way. He believes there are hundreds of illegal game rooms in the city. Legalizing 20 adult game rooms would help close most of the rest and make the ones that stay open safer. He explained his philosophy to News4Jax.
“They are underground, they are a haven for crime. It’s time to bring them into the light and regulate them. There’s hundreds all over our city that are robbing the consumer and it’s wrong. And now it’s time to shut them down and limit the number of operators.”
Why Cumber wants to keep adult arcades illegal
Like Dennis, Cumber is concerned by the crime that adult arcades produce, she told PlayFL.
“Research found that over a five-year period, there were 28,000 calls placed to JSO (Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office) from the 100 or so adult arcades that existed throughout the city prior to 2019.”
She noted that illegal game rooms “are a clear public nuisance and too large a burden on our already strained law enforcement.” While Dennis’ solution is to regulate the industry through legalization, Cumber wants to keep the game rooms illegal.
Aside from the game rooms being a hotbed for illegal activity, they often offer gambling terminals that are too similar to slot machines, which are illegal for anyone to operate in the state except the Seminole Tribe of Florida.
FGCC takes aim at arcades throughout the state
Aside from local lawmakers, the state’s newest gaming regulatory board took issue with these arcades. In one of its first directives, the Florida Gaming Control Commission went after underground slot machine parlors throughout the state.
These operations were typically operated within these arcades. Last month, authorities arrested the owner of a Boynton Beach arcade. He is facing 35 felony charges and all but one count of money laundering are related to illegal gambling.
The commission, created shortly after the latest gaming compact, recently sent a letter to the Jacksonville City Council warning them that legalizing adult game rooms would violate state law against operating electronic devices for gambling purposes.
When asked if there was a way to legalize adult game rooms and make them safe for the communities, Cumber was adamant.
“No. It’s not something that we can legally do in the state of Florida, nor is it good for our neighborhoods throughout the city. We should be focusing on making Jacksonville safer. … Now is not the time to provide safe havens for criminals.”