House OK’s internet cafe ban that looks like longshotby John Kennedy | March 1st, 2012
Looking to break a standoff with the Senate, the House approved a ban on internet cafes Thursday, with supporters saying they were following the lead of cities, counties and law enforcement officials who have condemned the spread of the streetcorner gambling centers.
Rep. Scott Plakon, R-Longwood, has been pushing the ban for a couple of years — even as the cafes proliferate. He accused them of preying on people who shouldn’t be putting down money on the sweepstakes games.
“Their targeting our poor and elderly has turned me into a crusader on this,” Plakon said.
But the Senate has shown no interest in Plakon’s ban. Instead, Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, R-Miami, is proposing a milder, regulatory bill (SB 380) for the cafes — that also seems to be going nowhere in the Senate.
“I challenge the Senate today…you may agree or disagree. But I hope they put up some solution,” Plakon said.
The Palm Beach County Commission in January prohibited business licenses from being issued to new cafes in the county, in a bid to stem their spread. But the cafes remain popular — and profitable, records show.
Even Plakon’s bill (HB 3) was softened by the House to continue to allow games offered by such charity groups as the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars and Disabled American Veterans.
Industry leaders, though, also are shrewd political players.
Allied Veterans of the World and Affiliates Inc., based in St. Augustine, works with many veterans’ charities and operates Internet cafes at 39 sites around the state, mostly in North and Central Florida.
It claims to have contributed more than $2.5 million to veterans and first responders in 2011, although documents submitted to the state’s Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, which regulates charities, provided no detail of the donations.
An estimated 1,000 Internet cafes have opened in Florida since they first started popping up in shopping centers in 2006. They sell internet time or phone cards and profit from computerized sweepstakes-style games that the industry says comply with state gambling laws.