Florida may have accidentally banned access to the Internet

Florida may have accidentally banned access to the Internet
Florida may have accidentally banned access to the Internet
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Back in March, an ugly scandal unfolded in Florida, where Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll (R) was forced to abruptly resign from office, after her company was accused of helping oversee a fraudulent veterans’ charity and using gambling at Internet cafes to launder money.

A month later, Florida Republicans, who control every branch of the state government, were eager to distance themselves from the accusations surrounding Carroll, and approved a statewide ban on Internet cafes where gaming has been common. It had the desired effect – as the Tampa Bay Times reported, an estimated “200 operators of adult arcades, more than 1,000 Internet cafes and hundreds of Miami’s maquinitas have been forced to close down across Florida.”

But a new lawsuit, brought by a business owner shut down by the ban, is raising the prospect of the law’s unintended consequences (via the Huffington Post).

The lawsuit filed in Miami-Dade Circuit Court on behalf of Incredible Investments, LLC, owned by Consuelo Zapata, alleges that the Legislature effectively applied the ban to all computers when it defined illegal slot machines as any “system or network of devices” that may be used in a game of chance. The state effectively made every smartphone and computer an illegal device, the plaintiff argues.

“They rushed to judgment and they took what they saw as a very specific problem and essentially criminalized everything,” said Justin Kaplan of the Miami law firm of Kluger, Kaplan, Silverman, Katzen & Levine, which is representing Zapata.

The argument, crafted with the help of constitutional law attorney and Harvard professor Alan Dershowitz, is based on the assumption that the definition of illegal slot machines is now so broad that an illegal game could be potentially played on every computer. Under the law, the Legislature’s own computers, “the ones they used to draft this legislation, are illegal,” Kaplan said.

The Miami Herald posted the complaint online here (pdf). I’m no lawyer, but on the surface, the plaintiffs seem to have a point – Florida’s prohibition on any “system or network of devices” that can be used in a game of chance is remarkably broad, and would apply to every computer, tablet, or smart phone with the ability to go online.

Only Florida could accidentally ban Internet access.