Internet cafes: regulate don’t eliminate

Yesterday, HB-3, outlawing all Internet sweepstakes cafes in Florida, passed through the House, as expected; but Historic City News learned from Tallahassee insiders, the measure is not likely to be taken up by the Senate; whose members embrace another entertainment option for residents and tourists that could raise as much as $4 million annually in licensing fees through regulation.

Until it becomes clear what action, if any, the Senate will take on the issue, thirteen St Johns County business locations, and their landlords, where computer terminals provide entertainment for players entered into “sweepstakes pools” with pre-determined outcomes, it continues to be “wait and see”.

The entire Cabinet and Republican Governor Rick Scott prefer making illegal the sweepstakes cafes that provide slot-like video game sweepstakes as a promotion to sell Internet or telephone time.

St Johns County Internet Cafes:

Atlantis Internet Cafe 1949 SR-A1A South
Atlantis Internet Cafe & Sweepstakes 3501 N Ponce De Leon Blvd
Cyberworld Bonus Club LLC 2469 US-1
Florida Sweepstakes Holdings 6 LLC 445 SR-13
Internet Cafe 1050 SR-206 East
Kiwi Internet Cafe 292 Solana Rd
Lucky Joes III 4010 US-1 South
Lucky Joes Sweepstakes LLC 525 SR-16
Lucky Louies Internet Cafe 2548 US-1 South
Old City Sweepstakes 2303 N Ponce De Leon Blvd
Prime Time Business Services 1956 US-1 South
Winners Circle Sweepstakes 6101 SR-A1A South
Winners Internet Sweepstakes Cafe 2600 US-1 South

According to business tax records obtained by Historic City News, there are approximately 50 of these businesses in northeast Florida.

Republican leaders in the House passed the bill on a 72-43 vote Thursday. Only three Democrats supported the bill to eliminate what some have characterized as Florida’s “strip-mall casinos”.

Democrats seem to prefer the Senate approach to regulate the estimated 1,000 Internet sweepstakes cafes in Florida. “Members, regulate, don’t eliminate,” was the plea from Hallandale Beach Representative Joe Gibbons, a Democrat. “Don’t eliminate jobs, regulate the Internet cafes.”

One estimate reported that Internet cafes employ up to 13,000 people in Florida.

Republican Senate President Mike Haridopolos affirmed his chamber’s preference for regulation after the House vote was taken. “Most in the Senate believe they should be regulated as opposed to banned,” Haridopolos said.

One proposed “regulation” option would require all centers to register each year, and pay a $100 per-machine fee to the state. Operators would be required to show proof that they are legal to operate at the location stated in their registration — an attempt to reconcile ambiguous state and local laws, including local zoning.

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