It’s game over for adult arcades in Nassau County.
The county commission voted unanimously Monday night to shut down simulated gambling establishments, deeming them a nuisance, citing public safety concerns and increasing crimes.
Business owners have until March 27 to shut down operations.
Commissioner Justin Taylor motioned to approve the ordinance with a grace period to give employees time to find other employment and businesses time to shut down. The commissioners went with a 60-day grace period.
“I don’t believe it’s any of you,” Taylor told the crowd. “It’s the crime that’s coming along with it, for whatever that reason is.”
Although some residents called for regulations instead of closures, regulating the arcades isn’t possible, according to County Attorney Mike Mullin.
“There’s no real way to regulate businesses,” he said. “If it’s a nuisance, it’s a nuisance, so you can’t regulate out the nuisance aspect with (what) the sheriff’s department has given you and the other data that you have.”
After arcades in Duval County were shut down in October, criminal activity in and around Nassau’s arcades increased. Also, the number of arcades in Nassau more than doubled from 14 to approximately 32 as a result, according to Mullin.
Weighing heavily on the county’s decision was Nassau County Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Cedric Arline’s update about crime. He said that undercover detectives witnessed the purchase of methamphetamine in several adult arcades.
“We also had purchases of heroin, crack cocaine, and we also conducted simulations where we played games where we had guys insert cash,” he said. “Some of the gaming rooms paid cash outright. There was one that required that you come and pick up $500, but if they won over $1,000 or $15,000, then you would have to come out every day to pick up $500 from there on out. And then there’s others, if you won $5,000, they paid you at the end of the night.”
Prostitution has increa-sed in hotels near arcades. Traffic issues along U.S. 1 in western Nassau and the lack of lighting outside many arcades were also concerns, according to Arline.
Nassau County Code Enforcement representatives found that some arcades had electrical issues and four were improperly zoned.
During public comment, at least 38 people spoke in support or against adult arcades. Some citizens recommended regulating arcades that have fish games, because they have higher payouts and seemed to be at higher risks of robbery attempts.
Hilliard resident Gerald Wollitz supported the ban and suggested four ways to assist those who would be left without jobs.
If the arcades did close, he suggested that the county commission suspend taxes for 180 days or until the building has another tenant, ask the Nassau County Economic Development Board to assist the unemployed and have the Nassau County Chamber of Commerce give free one-year memberships to arcade owners.
He also suggested that the county increase funding for the Nassau County Council on Aging so that seniors would have additional recreational opportunities. Callahan doesn’t have a COA site, but Hilliard and Fernandina Beach do.
George Crady spoke in support of adult arcades, saying that inferring that they are public nuisances could affect the reputation of business owners.
Georgia resident Sharon Williams drives to Nassau regularly to play games.
“Crime is everywhere,” she said, adding she supports regulation over closures.