Enforcement of Internet cafe ban starting slowly

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Internet café games are now illegal, but police around the state are taking different approaches to enforcing the two-day old law, reports Jim Turner of the News Service of Florida.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement has issued advisories to law enforcement agencies regarding the new law intended to crackdown on the strip center businesses, which critics say are “storefront-casinos.”

Meanwhile, local agencies appear to be taking more deliberate approaches to the law that sped through the Legislature and was signed Wednesday by Gov. Rick Scott.

The Alachua County Sheriff’s Office and the Gainesville Police Department are conducting spot-checks on businesses identified with the electronic games of chance and both agencies have analysts reviewing the new law.

Bradenton police are giving Internet café owners 30 days to comply with the law, while the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office, anticipating legal action will be taken against the law, intends to see what the courts do, according to local media reports. 

In Volusia County, the sheriff’s office says 16 businesses identified as having offered the electronic games have been closed, with the last one shutting down Thursday afternoon.

FDLE spokeswoman Gretl Plessinger said Friday that handouts and posters regarding the law were sent this week to the Florida Sheriff’s Association, Florida Police Chiefs Association, local prosecutors and others. 

The advisories are intended to serve as notification to “owners, operators, employees, and patrons that these activities are in violation of Florida law, and could result in prosecution,” Plessinger said.

The new law, which requires machines to be coin-operated and caps prizes at 75 cents, basically affirms that gambling is illegal in Florida unless authorized by the state.

The FDLE handout says owners and employees of businesses that provide the unlawful games face a third degree felony. Also, misdemeanor charges could be applied for the possession of the gambling devices and for simply playing the games.

The law was shepherded quickly through the Legislature after an multi-state and federal investigation led to raids a month ago at Internet cafes across Florida and the arrests of 57 people. The scandal also forced the resignation on March 12 of former Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll, who in the past did consulting work for Allied Veterans of the World, a charity at the center of the investigation.

“We are prepared to prosecute any multi-circuit cases that involve criminal violations as we have always done and we will continue to do so,” said Jennifer Meale, a spokeswoman for Attorney General Pam Bondi.

Backers of the bill claim that retail stores and children’s entertainment centers that offer coin operated games, including Wal-Mart, Chuck E. Cheese and Dave & Buster’s, would not be impacted. However, the Florida Arcade Association, argues those big chains should be equally scrutinized.

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.