Rick Scott: Internet cafes should be illegal

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Gov. Rick Scott on Thursday showed his hand in the debate over Internet cafés, calling the gambling hybrids “illegal” and saying they should be shut down, reports Michael Peltier of the News Service of Florida.

In a brief question and answer session with reporters the governor said he favors efforts to close legal loopholes that have allowed the venues to spread throughout the state. Since 2006, the number of storefront operations has swelled to more than a thousand.

“I don’t believe that the Internet locations are legal, or should be legal,” Scott said, taking in his firmest stand to date on the issue.

On Thursday, the Senate Regulated Industries Committee is scheduled to consider two Internet café bills. One of the bills (SB 428) bans them altogether while another (SB 380) seeks to regulate them.

On Tuesday, the House Business and Consumer Affairs Subcommittee approved a proposal (HB 3) to ban the facilities. On a 10-5 vote the panel approved the ban over objections that the cafés generate thousands of jobs in areas that experience some of the highest unemployment rates in the state. Efforts to shut them down also face opposition from some veterans groups that receive money from the games.

An estimated 1,400 Internet cafés are now open in Florida. Owners say they offer electronic sweepstakes-style games that are allowed under state law.

Critics say the cafés house nothing more than computerized slot machines and that the venues target low-income people, who can least afford it.

Bills aimed at shutting them down have generated support from law-enforcement officials, Attorney General Pam Bondi’s and the Florida Chamber of Commerce.

Scott’s addition to that opposition could increase the pull for legislation that would close them.

“I believe that it’s an area that doesn’t make sense and I don’t believe in it,” Scott said.
Scott has mostly remained above the vocal fight over expanding gambling that has emerged. He has said he is OK with many existing forms of gambling, including tribal casinos and has defended the Lottery, saying it has funneled billions into education. But he reiterated on Wednesday that he is wary of deepening the state’s reliance on revenue from gamblers.

“My position has been I don’t want our budget to be dependent on gaming,” Scott said.

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.