Internet Cafes Are a Blight: Go Get 'Em, John Thrasher
Around the State
Free-market proponent though I am, I want the best for Florida. Internet cafes are not the best, and I'm frankly thrilled to see Sen. John Thrasher making good on his promise to get thuggy with these storefront sleazeries.
Have you ever been inside one of them?
They're like your friendly neighborhood candy store, only they're not.
They're like a local stop to share the company of friends on a downtown stroll, only they're not.
Think of them as gin joints without the gin.
Internet cafes of the sweepstakes variety are spartan, sad little places -- at least the ones I've seen -- that prey on the lonely and the elderly. The only cheer I've ever seen in any one of them came from a gleeful manager counting out customers' money.
You could say Internet cafes are the flophouse end of the tourist experience -- though I doubt these places attract many of our visitors. What they offer is pricey "pretend" gambling, with zero-take-home-ever for the player and zero oversight for the operator.
Players don't play for cash -- that's how these places slide under the law. It's not gambling, say the operators, because all players get are "prizes," like what you get when you win a ring toss at a county fair. No wonder they're prime turf for racketeers.
I'm truly sorry what Internet cafes have done to Jennifer Carroll, however indirectly. And I doubt that when she served as Allied Veterans of the World's consultant, she knew the sleazebags behind it were money laundering, misrepresenting themselves to her and everybody else and cheating charities. In fact, I'm sure she believed a lot of money was going to veterans who needed it.
Nevertheless, I'm not sorry something big enough, something demonstrative enough, has come along to quicken the demise of Internet cafes in Florida. Thank you, God. With every year of legislative inaction, the industry becomes more firmly entrenched.
Internet cafes are akin to some medieval pox, the way they spread. Once they operated in the shadows. Now they number roughly 1,500 to 2,000 statewide, generating an estimated $1 billion-plus in annual revenue. Last time I visited my town in South Florida there was only one of these places. Now there are more than a dozen.
Please don't misunderstand me. I'm not judging what people do with their time or their money. We all have our vices, I certainly have mine -- it's how we get by.
What I am judging is Florida. This is the great state of Florida, for crying out loud. We have sunshine, opportunity and prosperity. Don't we want to showcase ourselves at our best?
Internet cafes -- these sorry, empty-hearted places are not what we are.
Internet cafes are one of the main reasons I'm so in favor of destination resorts -- the big, flashy, classy can't-wait-to-get there resorts worthy of our reputation around the world as the No. 1 vacation destination. They showed me the foolishness of debating the pros and cons of multibillion-dollar entertainment venues whose developers are trying to do things right here, while all the time ignoring the increasing blight on the local landscape that Internet cafes have become from one end of the state to the other.
So, John Thrasher, Garrett Richter -- do your thing, senators. Don't stay with the moratorium on Internet cafes on my account when the Senate Gaming Committee meets on Monday. If you want to close 'em down, boys, I'll lead the charge.
Reach Nancy Smith at nsmith@sunshinestatenews or at (850) 727-0859.