Monday, June 3, 2013

State Arcades Clash in Court over Video Gambling Machines

http://www.miamiherald.com/2013/05/31/3426897/state-arcades-clash-in-court-over.html

By Glenn Garvin ggarvin@MiamiHerald.com



Florida’s controversial new law on video gambling machines began what will undoubtedly be an epic voyage through the judicial system Friday, when attorneys for two Broward County arcades asked a federal judge in Fort Lauderdale to block enforcement of the measure.

U.S. District Judge James I. Cohn promised a ruling next week after a spirited 90 minutes of legal debate in his packed courtroom on whether the law is unconstitutionally vague or violates the rights of the machines’ customers.

The law was passed hurriedly in April after a scandal over political donations by so-called Internet cafes — where computers were set up for gambling — threatened to envelop the Legislature. Lawmakers outlawed “casino-style” games, limited prizes to a value of 75 cents, and made violation a second-degree felony punishable by a maximum 15-year prison sentence.

But the law’s broad provisions have apparently outlawed most of the machines at many gaming centers, ranging from the kiddie games at Chuck E. Cheese’s through young-adult watering holes like Dave & Buster’s and senior arcades where the elderly gather to play simulated video slot machines for 8 cents a pop.

The lawsuit that got its first hearing Friday was brought by owners of two senior arcades, which like hundreds of others around the state closed down after the law went into effect.

Their attorney, Fort Lauderdale constitutional expert Bruce Rogow, focused most of his attack on the new law’s failure to specify exactly what “casino-style games” are. He cited transcripts from hearings on the law in which legislators admitted they were leaving the term undefined and said the law contained “gray areas.”

“There is no definition of ‘casino-style games,’” Rogow argued, adding the term is so broad that an arcade owner could be arrested for owning a machine “because it has lights and a handle.” While the games in his clients’ arcades may look similar to Las Vegas video slot machines, he added, their internal workings are vastly different and allow players to exercise skills instead of relying on pure chance as casino machines do.

But Allen Winsor, defending the law on behalf of the Florida attorney general’s office, said plenty of laws don’t include detailed definitions. As long as they meet the legal standard of being understood by “an average person of ordinary intelligence,” he said, that’s good enough.

“You don’t have to have mathematical precision,” Winsor said. “There are limitations on the English language.”

The two sides also clashed over whether the law violates arcade customers’ freedom of association by, as Rogow contended, effectively closing the senior arcades. “You could make that same argument for a crack house,” retorted Barry Richard, attorney for the Seminole Indian tribe, which has intervened in the case on the state’s side to

protect its gambling interests.

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Editorial Reviews of All or Nothing

New York Times--". . . a cartographer of autodegradation . . . Like Dostoyevsky, Allen colorfully evokes the gambling milieu — the chained (mis)fortunes of the players, their vanities and grotesqueries, their quasi-philosophical ruminations on chance. Like Burroughs, he is a dispassionate chronicler of the addict’s daily ritual, neither glorifying nor vilifying the matter at hand."

Florida Book Review--". . . Allen examines the flaming abyss compulsive gambling burns in its victims’ guts, self-esteem and bank accounts, the desperate, myopic immediacy it incites, the self-destructive need it feeds on, the families and relationships it destroys. For with gamblers, it really is all or nothing. Usually nothing. Take it from a reviewer who’s been there. Allen is right on the money here."

Foreword Magazine--"Not shame, not assault, not even murder is enough reason to stop. Allen’s second novel, All or Nothing, is funny, relentless, haunting, and highly readable. P’s inner dialogues illuminate the grubby tragedy of addiction, and his actions speak for the train wreck that is gambling."

Library Journal--"Told without preaching or moralizing, the facts of P's life express volumes on the destructive power of gambling. This is strongly recommended and deserves a wide audience; an excellent choice for book discussion groups."—Lisa Rohrbaugh, East Palestine Memorial P.L., OH

LEXIS-NEXIS--"By day, P drives a school bus in Miami. But his vocation? He's a gambler who craves every opportunity to steal a few hours to play the numbers, the lottery, at the Indian casinos. Allen has a narrative voice as compelling as feeding the slots is to P." Betsy Willeford is a Miami-based freelance book reviewer. November 4, 2007

Publisher’s Weekly--"Allen’s dark and insightful novel depicts narrator P’s sobering descent into his gambling addiction . . . The well-written novel takes the reader on a chaotic ride as P chases, finds and loses fast, easy money. Allen (Churchboys and Other Sinners) reveals how addiction annihilates its victims and shows that winning isn’t always so different from losing."

Kirkus Review--"We gamble to gamble. We play to play. We don't play to win." Right there, P, desperado narrator of this crash-'n'-burn novella, sums up the madness. A black man in Miami, P has graduated from youthful nonchalance (a '79 Buick Electra 225) to married-with-a-kid pseudo-stability, driving a school bus in the shadow of the Biltmore. He lives large enough to afford two wide-screen TVs, but the wife wants more. Or so he rationalizes, as he hits the open-all-night Indian casinos, "controlling" his jones with a daily ATM maximum of $1,000. Low enough to rob the family piggy bank for slot-machine fodder, he sinks yet further, praying that his allergic 11-year-old eat forbidden strawberries—which will send him into a coma, from which he'll emerge with the winning formula for Cash 3 (the kid's supposedly psychic when he's sick). All street smarts and inside skinny, the book gives readers a contact high that zooms to full rush when P scores $160,000 on one lucky machine ("God is the God of Ping-ping," he exults, as the coins flood out). The loot's enough to make the small-timer turn pro, as he heads, flush, to Vegas to cash in. But in Sin City, karmic payback awaits. Swanky hookers, underworld "professors" deeply schooled in sure-fire systems to beat the house, manic trips to the CashMyCheck store for funds to fuel the ferocious need—Allen's brilliant at conveying the hothouse atmosphere of hell-bent gaming. Fun time in the Inferno.

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Bio


Preston L. Allen is the recipient of a State of Florida Individual Artist Fellowship in Literature and the Sonja H. Stone Prize in Fiction for his short story collection Churchboys and Other Sinners (Carolina Wren Press 2003). His works have appeared in numerous publications including The Seattle Review, The Crab Orchard Review, Asili, Drum Voices, and Gulfstream Magazine; and he has been anthologized in Here We Are: An Anthology of South Florida Writers, Brown Sugar: A Collection of Erotic Black Fiction, Miami Noir, and the forthcoming Las Vegas Noir. His fourth novel, All Or Nothing, chronicles the life of a small-time gambler who finally hits it big. Preston Allen teaches English and Creative Writing in Miami, Florida.