With critics describing Internet cafes as a “cancer,” the Florida House on Thursday overwhelmingly passed a ban on café games that are often likened to slot machines. “We’ve got a cancer in Florida, and it’s growing, and it’s growing at a rapid rate,” said Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala. The Republican-dominated House voted 72-43, largely along party lines, to approve the ban (HB 3). But key senators have already said they will not approve a ban, arguing that the state should instead regulate the hundreds of Internet cafes that have popped up in strip shopping centers across the state. “This bill is stone-cold dead when it hits the Senate,” said House Minority Leader Ron Saunders, D-Key West. Internet cafes offer computerized games that the industry says comply with sweepstakes laws. But opponents argue that the cafes offer a form of illegal gambling and particularly target low-income residents. Bill sponsor Scott Plakon, R-Longwood, said lawmakers need to change state law to make clear the games are illegal. Plakon called such games the “crack cocaine of gambling.” But bill opponents said, in part, that banning the games would cause thousands of café workers to lose their jobs. “Regulate, don’t eliminate,” said Rep. Joe Gibbons, D-Hallandale Beach. “Don’t eliminate jobs. Regulate the Internet cafes.”
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.