Lawmakers push for Internet cafe crackdown

Florida House bill would reinforce ban on unregulated machines

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MIAMI - The backlash against Internet cafes and popular gambling machines known in South Florida as 'maquinitas' continued in Tallahassee on Friday.

The House committee on gaming voted 15-1 to put forward a bill (HB 155) that would reinforce a ban on unregulated gambling machines and make way for a crackdown.

Lobbyist Ron Book told the committee the machines "are rip-off, unregulated, prey-on-the-poor illegal machines that proliferate South Florida."

The decision comes days after the massive criminal case against an Internet cafe gambling company and an allegedly bogus veteran's charity that led to the resignation of Florida Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll.

Authorities say Jacksonville attorney Kelly Mathis is at the center of an operation that generated almost $300 million under the guise that proceeds were donated to veterans' groups, but actually only 2 percent of that was given to charity.

"There's absolutely no skill involved," said Rep. Carlos Trujillo (R-Miami), describing his view on the machines. "It's specifically a game of chance."

Mardi Gras Gaming President Dan Adkins cheered the move in part because it removes his unregulated competition.

"This is going to close down all the loopholes and allow prosecutors to make cases," said Adkins.

Maquinitas is a word for little machines.

"In Miami, they are affectionately known as maquinitas," said Trujillo.

Hialeah is ground zero for maquinitas, which are spreading through Miami-Dade.

Local 10's Bob Norman visited one location that is a cafeteria, gas station, mini-mart and mini-casino all-in-one.

The maquinitas have long been a matter of controversy in Hialeah.

"Closing the door on a business that makes you millions is not something that people are going to do lightly," said Trujillo.

The only ‘no' vote on the House committee came from Rep. Jim Waldman, (D-Coconut Creek). He called the bill a knee-jerk reaction to the criminal case and Carroll's resignation.

"I have no ownership interest in Internet cafes, I never have and never will. However, I do happen to support gambling," said Waldman.

The bill is expected to pass quickly. Once that happens, it will be up to Hialeah and other municipalities to enforce it.

Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press contributed to this report. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.