ATLANTA, GA and TALLAHASSEE, FL -- The legal and legislative struggle is heating up in two key Southern states to determine the future of Internet-based sweepstakes videogames that award cash prizes.
In Georgia, an anti-sweepstakes bill (HB 164) passed the full House on March 17 by a 166-2 vote. The sponsor, state Rep. Matt Ramsey (R-Peachtree City), said it is intended to "eviscerate" sweepstakes videogames, which he called "tantamount to a slot machine."
If Ramsey's bill becomes law, a $75 licensing fee would be imposed on all coin-operated machines. But some opponents said the measure could be a Trojan horse for the return of video poker, because it also would permit operators to award winners with non-cashable gift cards of up to $5 per play. Ramsey denied that his bill is pro-gambling. Georgia outlawed amusement video poker in 2001. | SEE GA STORY
Meanwhile, Columbus district attorney Julia Slater conceded that Georgia's sweepstakes videogames operators might be safe from prosecution under current state gambling laws, which have a sweepstakes exception. The matter will probably have to be settled by new legislation, she said.
In Florida, the Electronic Machines and Devices for Sweepstakes Prohibited Act (HB 217) has passed its first House committee vote. Sponsored by state Rep. Scott Plakon (R-Longwood), the bill is designed to prohibit the operation of an electronic device to conduct sweepstakes through use of entertaining display or to promote such sweepstakes, with cash prizes to winners. | SEE VT COVERAGE
The bill now goes to three more House committees. The Senate counterpart, SB 576, has not yet been scheduled for a committee hearing. Plakon said up to 600 Internet cafés might be operating sweeps games in Florida, constituting a $1 billion a year market.
A competing bill pending before the state legislature would permit operation of sweepstakes videogames. Observers said which bill eventually wins could depend on the tide of public opinion.
In past years, Florida citizens have tended to favor small-stakes risk-reward amusement games, such as in so-called "adult arcades" that offer small cash prizes for video redemption.
Florida courts are also weighing in on the controversy. A federal judge in Seminole County, U.S. District Judge John Antoon, presided over Allied Veterans of the World Inc. vs. Seminole County and is expected to hand down his ruling on the legality of sweeps videos soon.
The case arose when Allied, an operating company, challenged the county's recently adopted local ban on sweeps games and casino-style gameplay. Judge Antoon has issued a temporary restraining order, allowing local Internet cafés to keep operating the games, until his verdict is announced.
Some traditional amusement operators in Seminole County strongly favor the ban, saying it creates an unfair advantage for sweeps cafés.