Court to consider whether Internet Cafe case is valid

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A Tallahassee appeals court will hear arguments Tuesday about whether it should revive a lawsuit that could determine whether Internet cafes violate state gambling laws, reports Jim Saunders of the News Service of Florida.

Allied Veterans of the World, Inc., a major operator of the cafes, filed the lawsuit in 2010 after authorities moved to shut down cafes in Pinellas, Jackson, Marion and Seminole counties.

But a Leon County circuit judge tossed out the case, saying it was improperly filed against the attorney general, statewide prosecutor and Florida Department of Law Enforcement commissioner instead of against authorities in the counties.

Allied Veterans will ask the 1st District Court of Appeal to let the lawsuit move forward, as the non-profit organization seeks a declaration that it offers legal sweepstakes games at the cafes — and not illegal gambling, as critics allege.

It said in court filings that authorities in the four counties took steps such as seizing property, threatening seizures and arrests and, in at least one instance, arresting a worker.

“The arrests, seizures and threats were based on unfounded suspicions that Allied Veterans operates gambling houses and possesses slot machines in violation of the state of Florida’s criminal gambling laws,” the group said in a July brief.

In an August brief, attorneys for the state largely stayed away from the controversial issue about whether the cafes offer illegal gambling.

Instead, the brief said the attorney general, statewide prosecutor and FDLE commissioner had not taken any action against Allied Veterans and, as a result, the lawsuit should be dismissed.

“A party simply cannot bring an action against the attorney general, the statewide prosecutor and the commissioner of law enforcement every time he is accused of violating a criminal statute,” the state’s brief said.

Internet cafes have become a controversial issue as they have popped up in storefronts across the state in recent years. Lawmakers have filed at least two bills for the 2012 legislative session that could put the cafes out of business, targeting what the proposals call “simulated gambling devices.”

Allied Veterans, which says it uses money from the cafes to fund veterans’ health programs, is a major player in the Internet caf

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.