Lawmakers are working to combat what they call “grey market gaming.” A bill aimed at knocking out Internet sweepstakes cafes passed a House committee Friday with a 15-1 vote, just three days after officials announced a case against the Internet Cafe operator, Allied Veterans of the World.
Internet cafes are what opponents call tiny corner casinos. There people pay for Internet time, then log into a computer where they open slot machine like games that let participants win cash or prizes. The cafes are largely unregulated and operating in a loophole, because cafe owners claim the games aren’t gambling. They’re a sweepstakes. And lawmakers and community leaders have been looking to shut them down, claiming they’re linked to crime, like robbery, and prey on the poor and the elderly. And that plan got a big push forward when officials announced racketeering charges against a major Internet cafe operator. The House gaming committee rewrote its bill the day before its first hearing Friday and just days after the announcement. Representative Carlos Trujillo, a Republican from Doral, is the bill’s sponsor.
“The main thing that it does it is specifically clarify our legislative intent as these machines have always been illegal. We’re just further instructing law enforcement and the state attorney’s office that we continue to see them as being illegal,” Trujillo said.
But some, like Representative James Waldman, a Democrat from Coconut Creek, raised concerns about how quickly the bill is being pushed through.
“This is nothing but, what we consistently see to do around the Florida House and that is a knee jerk reaction to something that took place,” Waldman said.
Representative Matt Gaezt argued banning Internet cafes is an issue that’s long been under consideration in the Florida legislature. But Representative David Richardson, a Democrat from Miami Beach said he’s not so sure Representative Gaetz’s assessment is relevant in this case.
“This House and this committee has not studied this issue. A former House and a former committee has studied this. And I hope Representative Gaetz was not suggesting that I must vote based on the deliberations of a former House and a former committee,” Richardson said.
And others said they want to be sure any legislation that is passed comes along with the proper budget allocations so prosecutors and law enforcement officers can ensure any remaining facilities close their doors. Representative Waldman was the only vote against the bill. The Senate is expected to take up its version of the measure Monday.
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