Florida sheriffs have pleaded for years with the Legislature to close the loophole that fueled the fastest expansion of illegal gambling in decades — so-called "Internet cafes."
Legislators squabbled. Bills languished or failed. But the delay paid off — for lawmakers and the industry.
Threatened with being shut-down, the owners and operators flooded lawmakers with campaign cash and hired a stable of lobbyists with money that police now say was illegally obtained. Among the biggest contributors was Allied Veterans, the purported charity organization that authorities said this week secretly operated electronic slot machines at Internet cafes at 49 gaming centers across Florida.
Allied and related companies donated $2 million to the lawmakers’ campaigns and committees over at least three years, police say.
An analysis by the Herald/Times found that Allied, however, was not alone in writing large checks to political candidates. Another chain of gambling centers, run by Arcola Systems of Florida, layered at least $864,000 in checks on legislators in the last two years. Arcola and none of its representatives are included or named in the investigation of Allied.
With federal and state investigators now preparing indictments on racketeering and corruption charges, the same politicians who have quietly accepted industry checks are prepared to pass a bill to ban Internet cafes.
The House Gaming Committee will take up a bill to ban the gaming centers on Friday, a similar bill will be taken up in the Senate on Monday. Legislative leaders said they hope to get a bill on the governor’s desk by the end of the month.
“We are finally seeing what an epidemic this is that as elected officials we’ve closed our eyes to,’’ said Rep. Carlos Trujillo, R-Miami, sponsor of the House bill. “Seeing the amount of money these institutions made and stole from some of the most vulnerable in our state is really sad.” More here.
Here is a breakdown of some of the top takers in Tallahassee's Internet gambling gold rush 2011-12: