South Florida Seniors To Lawmakers: Hands Off Our Arcades

Mar 28, 2013

Above: 75-year-old Emma Illel plays one of the games at Cleopatra Arcade in Boynton Beach. Below: Outside Cleopatra, a message for Florida lawmakers
Credit Christine DiMattei

Playing cards -- even though you hate it.

Going shopping -- although you already have a closetful of clothes.

Staying home and watching television? Yawn.

Golf?  Not on your life.

Many of the senior citizens who gathered Tuesday in solidarity at Boynton Beach’s Cleopatra Arcade paint a grim picture of a future without their beloved senior arcades.

Fans of the facilities claim that a bill making its way through the Florida Legislature would deprive them of a desperately needed form of entertainment.

Last Friday, the Florida House voted in favor of a bill aimed at banning Internet cafes and adult arcades.  It now goes to the state Senate.

Eighty-three-year-old Doris Gervolino of Boynton Beach worked as a registered nurse for 50 years before retirement.  She says entertainment options will be sparse if the senior arcades shut down.

"I'm not a TV person.  I'm not a movie person because I was always on the go.  I'm sick of the shopping centers.  I don't need new clothes anymore!” says Gervolino.

Supporters of senior arcades say the Legislation went too far when it lumped the facilities together with Internet cafes.  Arcade patrons say they’re rewarded with prizes like gift cards, not cash.

Bob Forst, 58, is the former owner of two senior arcades. As he looks around at the retirees absorbedly playing the games at Cleopatra, he points out the camaraderie between the players.

"This is where people come in to enjoy themselves. There's a lot of difficulty going on in the outside world,” says Forst.  “When you can come in here for a few hours, spend some time, meet your friends, have a good time, forget about the world's problems, that's what we're trying to do.”

The Florida Arcade and Bingo Association says there are approximately 10 senior arcades in Broward, roughly 20 in Miami-Dade and about 50 in Palm Beach County.