House committee approves ban on Internet cafesby Dara Kam | January 17th, 2012
A measure banning Internet cafes in Florida cleared its first hurdle in the Florida House over the objections of two Palm Beach County Democrats and setting up a stand-off with the Senate that wants to regulate the “casinos on the corner.”
Lawmakers need to shutter the cafes because they prey on the poor and elderly and are highly addictive, said bill sponsor Rep. Scott Plakon, R-Longwood.
Plakon also cited reports showing that welfare recipients are using state-issued debit cards to at ATMs at the facilities to underwrite their gambling habit.
Lawmakers can pass his bill (HB 3), do nothing or regulate the facilities, which could cost the state $200 million a year by invalidating a deal Florida has with the Seminole Indians, Plakon said.
“The regulation bill would be the effect of us authorizing 1,000 gambling locations in this state,” Plakon said.
To help persuade the Business and Consumer Affairs Committee to support his bill, Plakon pointed to a San Francisco newspaper that pilloried Florida lawmakers for failing to shut down the cafes.
“This is San Francisco laughing at us,” Plakon said. “San Francisco, mind you members, is laughing at us.”
Cafe customers purchase Internet time, which they can use to browse the Web or play free “sweepstakes” games, in which computer credit or time is won. Those credits can be redeemed for cash.
Palm Beach County commissioners recently issued a moratorium blocking any new cafes from opening in unincorporated areas.
Industry backers say shutting the cafes down would put thousands of workers in the unemployment line.
“What strikes me is the jobs. It seems like some funny, fuzzy math but there are thousands, possibly tens of thousands of jobs at risk,” said Rep. Joe Abruzzo, D-Wellington, on the losing side of a 10-5 vote.
Rep. Mack Bernard, D-West Palm Beach, voted against the measure but said he was troubled by the bill needed more information about the ability the use of welfare money at the cafes.
“This is one of the sickest votes I’ve taken since I’ve been here,” Bernard said.