Florida sheriffs had pleaded for years with the Legislature to close the loophole that fueled the fastest expansion of illegal gambling in decades — so-called “Internet cafes,” reports the Miami Herald. 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. 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. 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.