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Internet Cafe Gaming Ban On a Roll

Tallahssee Daily Photo

A bill to ban what are known as Internet cafes is poised for a final vote in the Florida House. The measure got a hearing Thursday and rolled over to third reading, but some say the bill is moving too fast. They’re worried lawmakers haven’t had time to fully consider the impact of the proposal.

Internet cafes, or places that run online sweepstakes games, have gotten a bad reputation lately. Opponents say they prey on the elderly and the poor and some have been connected with crime. But more than that, Representative Carlos Trujillo (R-Doral), said  Internet cafes are illegal and he’s the sponsor of a bill that would reinforce that.  

“The bill clarifies a law already on the books and gives local law enforcement more tools to shut down the illegal gambling.  The bill updates the definition of slot machine to the current technology. The bill creates a rebuttal presumption that if it looks like a slot machine, it is a slot machine and it clarifies the current law as to arcades,” Trujillo said.

Internet cafes have been operating in what some call a perceived loophole. Trujillo's bill aims to close that. The measure follows closely on the heels of officials announcing racketeering charges against Internet cafe operator Allied Veterans of the World. But some lawmakers like Representative James Waldman, (D-Coconut Creek) worry the legislature is rushing the proposal.

“This was hurried to the floor. Last week we voted on it in committee. It went to one committee. And the stake holders weren’t even aware, so they weren’t allowed to come and testify,” Waldman said.

Waldman said if the House had been given more time to talk the bill through in committee then concerns about the economic impact or number of jobs that could be affected would have been addressed. Now he said the bill could be passed without lawmakers fully understanding its potential consequences. But Representative Trujillo said he doesn’t think there’s cause for concern.

“I do believe there will be a job lost, but it’s a job lost working in an illegal industry. The same as if law enforcement officers arrest a drug dealer next to a school. His job is lost. For all intents and purposes, his job is lost. But it’s an industry that should not be functioning. It’s an industry that is illegal and it’s an industry that we do not recognize as a state,” Trujillo said.

And while some raised concerns about losing the taxes associated with those jobs, Trujillo said he doesn’t think that would have much of an impact either—though he said he doesn’t know for sure.

"But I can tell you based on some of the reports that we’ve seen recently and the hundreds of millions of dollars that have been seized in cash and liquid assets, I find it hard to believe their employees are receiving W2s, they’re doing all their withholdings properly and they’re paying the unemployment compensation tax up here in Tallahassee. It’s just very difficult to imagine that,” Trujillo said.

Others worry about the impact the bill could have on businesses like Chuck E Cheese or Dave and Busters. Trujillo said the intention in not to close those businesses. He said the games played at that type of establishment involve some kind of skill, so they don’t fall under the rules in his bill.

And Truijillo said another difference is that places like Chuck E Cheese don’t give out cash prizes. The measure rolled over to third reading. Meanwhile, a similar bill in the Senate passed its first committee earlier this week.

Follow @Regan_McCarthy

Regan McCarthy is the Assistant News Director for WFSU Public Media. Before coming to Tallahassee, Regan graduated with honors from Indiana University’s Ernie Pyle School of Journalism. She worked for several years for NPR member station WFIU in Bloomington, Ind., where she covered local and state government and produced feature and community stories.

Phone: (850) 645-6090 | rmccarthy@fsu.edu

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