A ban on internet cafes in Florida came one more step closer to reality on March 18.
According to the Miami Herald, the state Senate gamin committee voted unanimously to make internet sweepstakes cafes illegal in the state of Florida. The bill (SB 1030) calls for an outright ban on internet cafes. The Senate vote comes four days after the House gaming committee voted to move its own internet cafe ban forward.
The ban on sweepstakes cafes comes after an investigation into Allied Veterans of the world, a non-profit company, revealed that the charity was a front for a $290 million illegal gambling business and the proceeds went directly into the pocket of the owners of Allied Veterans. The investigation has now resulted in the arrest of 57 members of Allied Veterans. The investigation also claimed the job of Lt Gov. Jennifer Carroll, who resigned after the investigations finding were made public. Carroll was the public-relations representative for Allied Veterans before leaving her position to become the Lt. Gov. of Florida. Carroll has not been charge in the investigation.
Senate President Don Gaetz released a statement to the media in regards to the internet cafe ban, in which he wrote:
Internet cafes are operating in a grey area which has created uncertainty and inconsistency in the application of existing laws. (The Senate) will close the loophole illegitimate operators thought they found in current law and once and for all put an end to the gross abuses we have seen.
According to the Miami Herald, the bill states that the sweepstakes exception "is only for promotions that truly are incidental to the sale of consumer products or services". Sen. Garrett Richter (R-Naples) told the Herald that current law clearly states that gambling in the state is illegal with the exception of church bingo and Indian casinos. Sen. John Thrasher of Jacksonville, who sponsored the bill, told the Herald that the law should had included a ban on sweepstakes cafes much sooner. He told the Herald:
I put some of the burden on us. Perhaps we should have acted two or three years ago. Perhaps we should have even acted before that.
But Internet cafe owners and workers around the state are insuring that they are going to fight to keep the cafes open.
According to the Herald, cafe owners said that they are providing a social outlet to senior citizens and others, even going as far as saying their clients are "like family". Other supporters of the cafes say that they provide much needed jobs to the areas they serve. During the committee hearing, supporters outside of the legislature building in Tallahassee wore T-shirts that read "Regulate, Do Not Eliminate". But Sen. Andy Gardiner (R-Orlando) told the crowd before the vote that the cafes are beyond the point of regulation. He said:
That is just not where we are at this point.
The bill will now head to the legislative floor where it is expected to pass.