If grandma and grandpa can’t gamble, neither should junior.
Claiming they are being unfairly targeted, beleaguered owners of so-called senior arcades are suing the kid-friendly Boomers for continuing to offer the same games of chance they say they were forced to unplug when a new state law went into effect in April.
“Listen, if senior arcades are subject to the new law, so is everyone else,” said attorney Michael Wolf, who filed the lawsuit on behalf of the Florida Arcade and Bingo Association.
The family entertainment company that has locations in Boca Raton and Fort Lauderdale is the first target of the lawsuit filed last week in Palm Beach County Circuit Court — but, Wolf said, it won’t be the last.
“There’s no carve-out in the law for Boomers or Dave & Buster’s or Chuck E. Cheese or even Disney,” he said, ticking off the names of the other companies that he plans to slap with identical civil lawsuits.
“Selective enforcement is illegal,” association president Gale Fontaine said. Like the owners of hundreds of other gambling parlors that catered to senior citizens statewide, she said she was forced to shutter her arcade after the law went into effect.
While payouts on the electronic games could reach $750, the average customers at her Pompano Beach arcade won $25 gift cards, she said. The law made the games illegal by, among other things, limiting the cash value of prizes to 75 cents. Meanwhile, she said, Boomers and Dave & Buster’s have similar games that give kids the chance to win iPhones or Xboxes.
“So grandma can’t win anything worth more than 75 cents, but her grandson can win an Xbox?” she asked.
The measure, aimed at outlawing a proliferation of gaming halls that were masquerading as Internet cafes, sped through the legislature after Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll resigned when it was found she had ties to an Internet gambling organization that pretended to be a veterans charity.
Boomers, which is owned by California-based Palace Entertainment, didn’t respond to requests for comment Monday. Dallas-based Dave & Buster’s issued a statement that mirrors what other companies have said about the new law.
“As we understand it, this legislation is not intended to target restaurant and entertainment companies such as Dave & Buster’s, Disney and others who operate games of skill,” said April Spearman, a vice president of the company that has a sprawling complex in Hollywood.
“While we continue to believe this legislation should not impact us, we are working with local law enforcement to understand the new law and ensure we are in full compliance.”
Most doubt that some of the games at Boomers or Dave & Buster’s would pass legal muster. The law requires that machines be coin-operated and rely on a player’s skill, not chance. For years, games at most arcades took tokens. In recent years, most have been converted so they operate with prepaid swipe cards. Under the new law, that is illegal, Wolf said.
More murky, he said, is the definition of skill. But, he said, for years it has been known that claw games — where people move mechanical arms for the chance to snare stuffed animals or other prizes — aren’t based on skill. Ditto the games where players try to push coins off a platform.
Further, he said, games that rely on wheels, like roulette, are all left to chance.
The real problem, said longtime parimutuel lobbyist Marc Dunbar, is Florida has no agency that regulates gambling. For years, the lawyer said he has pushed for the creation of a gambling commission, like those in other states. A commission that understands the gaming industry would propose laws that make sense and would be enforced, he said.
Wolf said the real aim of the lawsuit against Boomers isn’t to force it to get rid of its games. Instead, he said, he hopes the corporate giant will join with the small business people who operate the senior arcades to overturn the measure.
“We think when they come to the realization that the law does apply to them, they’ll be screaming bloody murder,” he said.