I have a stinking suspicion that the controversy over internet sweepstakes cafes is going to get worse before it gets better, especially since the Florida Legislature has failed to clarify the legal gray area the cafes are operating in. The following is an excerpt from a New York Times’ story examining the worries about ‘convenience casinos’ in Florida:
The shooting death in a place that some customers call a casino has brought fresh scrutiny to Florida? quickly multiplying ?nternet sweepstakes cafes,?which now total nearly 1,000 statewide and are estimated to gross more than $1 billion this year, according to industry analysts, state legislators and their aides and lawyers in the gambling industry.
It has also renewed calls by several county sheriffs for a statewide ban on the cafes?games. They say the businesses are magnets for crime because they usually have large sums of cash on hand. Since nine sweepstakes cafes have opened in Seminole County, crimes at those addresses have increased 14 percent, according to data compiled by the sheriff? office.
A bill was brought before the State Legislature this session that would have prohibited the games. Its proponents cite a host of concerns ?worries about crime, compulsive gambling and morality. But the bill was rejected after an aggressive lobbying campaign by the companies that franchise some of the cafes. It did not help, industry critics say, that two state legislators own Internet sweepstakes cafes themselves.
Labeled by critics as ?onvenience casinos,?the cafes offer computerized ?weepstakes?games to customers who buy Internet time or phone cards. ?oints?can be redeemed for cash, and jackpots are as high as $15,000, employees said. Lawyers for the owners have likened the slotlike and video poker games, with names like Cobra Cash and Fruit Paradise, to the Monopoly prize cards offered by McDonald? restaurants.
The cafes operate in a legal gray zone in Florida and a dozen other states. Several Florida sheriffs have raided the cafes, arguing that the computer games, operated via the Web, are nothing more than a vaguely disguised form of illegal gambling.