House Internet Cafe Bill Likely Doomed in the Senate

By: Jim Saunders News Service of Florida | Posted: March 1, 2012 3:55 AM
The Florida House is poised to approve a plan to shut down Internet cafe games that critics compare to slot machines, but two key senators said Wednesday that such a ban would die in the Senate.

"I don't think the House's ban is going to get anywhere after it leaves the House, that's for sure,'' said Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, a Miami Republican who is sponsoring an alternative proposal to regulate Internet cafes.

The Senate Regulated Industries Committee in January overwhelmingly approved Diaz de la Portilla's regulatory approach, SB 380, while refusing to support a ban. Meanwhile, Rep. Scott Plakon, a Longwood Republican who is sponsoring the House ban, has repeatedly said he will not support the regulation idea, describing it as "amnesty" for Internet cafes that offer gambling.

"These are the functional equivalent of slot machines,'' Plakon said.

The House on Wednesday took up Plakon's bill, HB 3, and approved an amendment to protect games offered by charity groups such as the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars and Disabled American Veterans. A vote on the overall bill likely will come Thursday.

An estimated 1,000 Internet cafes have opened in Florida during the past several years, with many popping up in strip shopping centers. While the cafes typically sell such things as Internet time or phone cards, they profit from computerized sweepstakes-style games that the industry says are allowed under state law.

But opponents contend the games are a form of illegal gambling and that the cafes particularly target low-income people. Plakon said state law needs changes to make clear that the games are prohibited.

Diaz de la Portilla has proposed a series of regulations for the industry, such as requiring certification that games meet legal standards, imposing a $100 fee on each terminal and restricting advertising outside cafes.

He and other regulation supporters argue, in part, that Plakon's bill would close the cafes and put thousands of people out of work -- which Diaz de la Portilla described as "total craziness.''

Plakon said Wednesday the businesses could stay open if they sell other goods or services, such as phone cards and Internet time. But he said he has seen people in the cafes losing hundreds or thousands of dollars on the games.

"These are right in our neighborhoods, right next door to the Publix and the dry cleaner,'' Plakon said.

But Senate Regulated Industries Chairman Dennis Jones, R-Seminole, said his committee has already shown that it wants to approve cafe regulations, not impose a ban.

"Essentially, what they (House supporters of a ban) are saying is they want nothing to happen this session,'' Jones said.

Tags: News, Politics

Comments (1)

James Davidson
3:54PM MAR 6TH 2012
Dear sirs,
I am Past Commander of Chapter 84 DAV Greater Daytona and I support internet cafes and let me tell you why. Chapter 84 as well as all Veterans groups are struggling financially. Bingo used to be and I stress USED TO BE, enough income for many of our Chapters and Post's to survive but not any more. Chapter 84 is barely keeping up finacially to keep our doors open. We are here in Volusia County serving our fellow Veterans. How can we serve them if our doors are closed?!! It is time for you, our elected officials to pass a bill allowing internet cafes to exit so that we can continue to serve all veterans statewide. WE NEED AN INCOME!! DON'T LET US DOWN!!!

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