When vote called – Thrasher stands alone

Historic City News learned that Florida Senator John Thrasher from St Augustine stood alone yesterday as the only holdout against a Senate Bill that would regulate, rather than ban, so-called “Internet casinos” in the state.

For thirteen St Johns County business locations, and their landlords, where computer terminals provide entertainment for players entered into sweepstakes pools with pre-determined outcomes, they are one step closer to “legitimization” through regulation.

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.

The regulation bill would require all centers to register each year, and pay a $100 per-machine fee to the state. Committee members saw current state and local laws as ambiguous so, if passed into law, the bill further requires operators to show proof that they are legal to operate at the location stated in the registration.

One estimate reported that Internet cafes employ up to 13,000 people in Florida and that the state could raise as much as $4 million annually in licensing fees through regulation.

The vote signals a clear separation between the Senate and the House, which already has passed a bill outlawing the cafes. Governor Rick Scott told reporters Wednesday that he thought Internet cafes were “illegal”. Religious groups, the Florida Sheriff’s Association, and Attorney Pam Bondi’s office all support an outright ban on Internet cafes in Florida.

Thrasher told reporters yesterday that the 8-1 passage of SB-380 by the Senate Regulated Industries Committee is a “major expansion of gambling”. An earlier speaker said that “all of law enforcement” supports a ban.

Laurie Lee, a Jacksonville attorney and lobbyist for International Internet Technologies, a company providing software to Internet sweepstakes operators, presented letters supporting regulation from St Johns County Sheriff David Shoar and Jacksonville Sheriff John Rutherford.

Jacksonville was the first city in the state to regulate the cafes — passing a bill in late 2010 that imposed fees and allowed no new centers to open. “Our community reached a successful compromise through aggressive regulation of this business, in lieu of prohibition,” Rutherford said.

“I have not heard from either of those sheriffs that they oppose prohibition,” Thrasher told reporters. Thrasher, who represents voters in parts of both counties, said that just because they “support regulation” does not mean they “don’t support doing away with the centers”.

Before the Duval regulation bill passed, Rutherford said he would ban them if he had his way but felt there was enough gray area to keep them open.

Charities that receive donations from the centers and Veterans of Foreign Wars spoke in favor of regulation.

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