Arcades Fail in Challenge to Florida Gambling Law

     (CN) - Two Florida arcades failed to persuade a federal judge that the state's new video gambling law is unconstitutionally vague and violates the rights of elderly players.
     HB 155, which took effect in April 2013, prohibits the operation of casino-style games in charity organizations, adult arcades and for-profit sweepstakes.
     Florida says slot machines are illegal in the state but that state law carves out a safe harbor for arcade games. The law excludes "casino-style games" from the definition of "amusement games or machines," which it explains "operate by means of the insertion of a coin." Amusement games as defined in the statute require users to apply skill so that they can receive points or coupons and trade in for merchandise. The coupons cannot exceed 75 cents in value, according to the statute.
     In an ensuing lawsuit, two Broward County amusement game arcade operators challenged the statute as unconstitutionally void for vagueness. They also said the law threatens the First Amendment right to free association of their best customers, senior citizens.
     Boardwalk Brothers Inc. and Play It Again Fla LLC said the law is ''arbitrary, irrational, not reasonably related to a legitimate governmental purpose, and void for vagueness.''
     They named Michael Satz, the state attorney for Florida's 17th Judicial Circuit, as defendant. The Seminole Tribe of Florida, which intervened as a defendant, defended the statute as that that aims "to ensure that casino-style games are not available in arcades, businesses which cater to minors."
     The arcades claimed that it was arbitrary for the state to limit operation of machines to "insertion of a coin."
     In addition to failing to tie the statute to a legitimate government purpose, the state also used a vague definition of merchandise and improperly excluded "gift cards or certificates" from its definition, according to the complaint.
     The arcade owners argued that the statute is also vague in describing casino-style games as one "in which the outcome is determined by factors unpredictable by the player or games in which the player may not control the game."
     U.S. District Judge James Cohn refused to grant the arcades an injunction Tuesday, agreeing with Satz that the statute can be applied constitutionally.
     "For example, Defendant Satz argues, if a business operated game machines that provide points or coupons worth more than seventy-five cents, the machines would fall outside the safe harbor, thus demonstrating that the statute can be constitutionally applied," Cohn wrote. "Similarly, if a game machine was operated by credit card, paper currency or some other object, it would fall outside the safe harbor."
     Though Boardwalk Brothers says it owns 60 "amusement machine games," and Play It Again purports to operate 105, Cohn said their facial challenge fails because the complaint does not describe what type of games are or "otherwise articulate why plaintiffs fear they will be subject to prosecution under the revised statute while they simultaneously claim to have operated in conformity with a previous version of the statute."
     Highlighting their allegedly "special relationship" with senior citizens also failed to help the arcades, according to the ruling.
     "Assuming arguendo that plaintiffs have standing to bring a suit on behalf of their patrons - which the court highly doubts - plaintiffs have failed to demonstrate that the statute violates their patrons' First Amendment right to 'association for social purposes,'" Cohn wrote.
     The complaint does not show how the statute prevents arcade "patrons from associating with one another, given that the statute does not prevent senior citizens from congregating elsewhere if plaintiffs' businesses are closed," according to the ruling. "Moreover, there is no evidence before the court that enforcement of the statute would force plaintiffs out of business and prevent patrons from associating at their establishments. Instead, the statute merely limits the types of games that might be offered. And even if the statute did force plaintiffs out of business, no citizen enjoys a constitutional right to play amusement games."