Law shutting down internet gambling has unexpected consequences



SEMINOLE COUNTY, Fla. - The statewide gambling scandal that led to more than 50 arrests and the resignation of the lieutenant governor is now being blamed for what some call a "bad law," 9 Investigates learned.

Reacting to the Allied Veterans of the World racketeering case, lawmakers passed swift and far-reaching legislation aimed at shutting down internet gambling centers.

WFTV investigative reporter Christopher Heath discovered the law is having unanticipated consequences, and sending nonprofits out of the state for fear of prosecution.

Earlier this year, the state raided the Allied Veterans of the World gaming center in Seminole County, setting off a chain of events that would end with millions of dollars seized, dozens of arrests across the county and state, and the resignation of Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll.

In addition, both political parties were forced to hand back thousands of dollars in campaign cash.

With many of the suspects still waiting to bond out of jail, the legislature sprang into action, crafting two bills designed to shut down internet casinos and stop illegal gambling.

Now, those same bills, which have become law, are preventing people like Linda Sacks from entering a nation-wide AARP sweepstakes contest.

"I think somebody needs to pay better attention to the bills being passed," said Sacks, an Ormond Beach resident.

Sacks, a national child-welfare advocate, wanted to enter the AARP's "New Face of 50" contest.

Upon reading the fine print, she discovered Florida is the only state where the contest is not being held.

"This cannot be possible. What did Florida do to be excluded?" Sacks asked.

Heath asked AARP why it is excluding Florida, and the organization responded in a statement that the new anti-gambling law prohibits its contest because the prize includes $5,000 and a photo-shoot. The statement added that the group "was surprised by the consequences of this new law."

Heath visited a former internet casino location in central Florida, noting that the gaming center is shut down and even missing the handle to its front door.

The same law that shut the operation down is now getting challenged in court with operators saying it isn't just poorly written, it may also be unconstitutional.

The lawsuits, filed in Broward County, have yet to go before a judge.

Sacks hopes the state will reexamine the unintended consequences of some of the laws it passes.

"To be excluded is just not fair," Sacks said.

Heath spoke with state Sen. John Thrasher, the sponsor of the bill in the Florida Senate. Thrasher said the AARP case was the first he had heard of a non-profit being excluded as a result of the new law. He added that excluding legitimate nonprofits was not the intent of the law.

The state won't be able to fix the problem until state legislature meets again in 2014.