There are just so many angles to this story. Its got bumbling cops, feisty old Jewish ladies, mahjong, and all of a sudden, one of my oldest publications is relevant! Condo Casino! (c’mon, click it and download it, get my SSRN rankings up!)
So first the story, then the law stuff.
Lee Delnick, Bernice Diamond, Helen Greenspan and Zelda King do what any self-respecting foursome of Jewish women in Florida would do… they get together regularly for a friendly game of mahjong in the Escondido Condominium clubhouse. (source)
Then some busybody in Building 11 called the police reporting that there was a gambling ring operating at Escondido. This being Flori-duh, did the cops “take a report” and just move on to other things? No, they actually decided to open an investigation. “The police closed the clubhouse.” (source)
Then, the condo board got involved:
The condominium management sent the ladies a certified letter stating that until further notice there would be no mahjong, bingo or poker played in the Clubhouse. Several times later that week, the police came by to make sure the ladies weren’t in there playing their beloved game. (source)
Ultimately, the police relented, but the clubhouse is still closed. Some news outlets are reporting that while gambling is illegal in Florida, there are some exceptions. Well, yes, there are! See Randazza, Marc J., Condo Casino! Gambling Law and the Florida Community Association, 79 Fla. Bar J. 8 (2005).
While gambling is prohibited, and Condo Associations can be held liable if their clubhouses turn into dens of iniquity, there is a “safe harbor” for “penny ante” card games in Fla. Stat. §849.085.
A penny-ante game is defined as a game or series of games of poker, pinochle, bridge, rummy, canasta, hearts, dominoes, or mah-jongg in which the winnings of any player in a single round, hand, or game do not exceed $10 in value. Fla. Stat. §§849.085(2)(a) and 849.086(8)(b); PPI, Inc. v. Dep’t of Bus. and Prof. Reg., 698 So. 2d 306 (Fla. 3d D.C.A. 1997). Everyone has to be over 18, and you can’t charge admission or any fee to play. Further, any debts incurred in these games are not legally enforceable. Fla. Stat. §849.085(4). Legally enforceable or not, if you think I would welch on a debt to Zelda, you’re out of your mind.
Now this penny ante solution requires that the game has to be conducted in a “dwelling.” But, that doesn’t mean that our four heroes had to play in their apartments. The law expands the plain meaning of the word “dwelling” to encompass common areas of a condominium, cooperative, residential subdivision (or homeowners’ association), or mobile home park as long as a participant is a unit owner in the community. Fla. Stat. §849.085(2)(b).
So, Altamonte Springs police and the busybodies at the Condo Board, leave Lee, Bernice, Helen, and Zelda alone!
If you want to read more about gambling in Florida Condos than you ever cared to imagine, download Condo Casino!. Its free. Its only 7 pages. And, if you download it, it cranks up my SSRN rankings. I don’t know what the hell that does for me, but it might be fun.