Florida Seniors Unhappy They Can't Take Arcade Winnings Home

New rules say customers cannot get compensated for playing.

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    NEWSLETTERS

    New rules say customer are paying for "amusement only" at senior arcades, paying for time to play isntead of winnings. NBC 6's Gilma Avalos has the story.

    At Johnny's Rec Room, a senior arcade in Pompano Beach, Fla., two former frequent customers walked in and then right out when they heard about the new rules.

    Fliers let seniors know they're now paying for "amusement only," paying for time to play instead of for prizes like grocery store gift cards and prepaid credit cards.

    Gale Fontaine, the owner and the President of the Florida Arcade and Bingo Association, has had to adjust to comply with a new state law that banned internet cafes in April. Senior arcades have been an unfortunate casualty of that law, Fontaine explained.

    "When they [legislators] were asked why they were changing the way they play the games, they said they wanted to slow the play down. This lady is 94 years old," Fontaine said pointing to a regular customer. "How much more do we need to slow it down?"

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    For about a year, Miami-Dade Police say they investigated a tip alleging that sports gambling and slot machines, or "maquinitas," were illegally paying customers out of a Southwest Miami-Dade cafeteria. Their investigation got hands on Wednesday, after a group of undercover officers raided the OK Minimarket on the 3000 block of Southwest 107th Avenue, arresting five suspects on several charges. Jesus Abreu, 64, and Odalys Abreu were arrested. Miami-Dade Police spokesman Alvaro Zabaleta comments.

    The law went into effect roughly a month after nearly 60 people were arrested in connection with a racketeering investigation.

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    Business owners hope the changes are just temporary, as they fight to amend the state law that's changed how they operate and which they say could ultimately shut them down for good.

    Over at Oasis Super Arcade and Bingo in Lauderhill, employee Patty Mantesta faced a nearly empty store Wednesday evening.

    "Three people since 4 o'clock," she said.

    It was dinner time, usually a busy time for the arcade, but there were no takers.

    The arcade's owners have had to retrofit machines to accept coins in order to comply. It's a gamble to try to stay afloat and has cost $50,000. Florida state law says they can no longer offer gift cards, so they've gotten creative. Customers earn tickets to buy prizes like towel sets, and earrings. The prizes are suggested by the customers themselves, but many don't love the change.

    "How can he stay in business with the few people that come in?" Mantesta asked.

    While some seniors are just happy to see these arcades open their doors once again.

    "This is our life. Who is it harming?" asked a woman who explained the location serves as a place to socialize and stay busy.

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    Others say they may not return.

    "I could go to Boomer's or Chuck-E-Cheese's and get more for my money," said a customer who didn't want to give her name.

    Attorney Micheal Wolf is working on both political and legal fronts. He said mainstream arcades should be playing by the same rules.

    "This law applies not only to Senior arcades and internet cafes, but also to what we would call mainstream arcades--including Boomer's Dave and Buster's and Chuck-E-Cheese's," he said.

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