What can I possibly say about my friend Rep. Peter Nehr opening an Internet Sweepstakes Cafe?

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Sometimes in politics, our friends do certain things we just do not agree with. Being a progressive with so many Republican friends, I’m sure I frequently disappoint/upset these friends with my actions, such as me organizing an effort to boo Governor Rick Scott.

Today, I am disappointed and upset after reading about my friend Rep. Peter Nehr gettinginto the Internet Sweepstakes Cafe business, especially after our mutual friend, Sheriff Jim Coats told him specifically that he believed such operations were illegal.

Though Coats and his staff met with Nehr last year to talk about the sweepstakes cafe industry, Coats said he didn’t know until Tuesday that Nehr had opened a sweepstakes cafe in a Palm Harbor strip center.

Coats wasn’t the only official surprised by Nehr’s new business. So was state Sen. Mike Fasano.

Fasano, sponsor of a bill in the state Senate to establish new controls over sweepstakes cafes, had recruited Nehr last fall to introduce a companion bill in the House, but Nehr chose not to file the bill. Nehr never told Fasano he was going into the sweepstakes business himself.

“I had no idea and I’m shocked,” said Fasano.

Rep. Nehr’s defense is that “this is a legitimate business that has been vetted and found to be completely legal in the state. I’m entitled like anyone else to open a legal business to earn money for my family.”

C’mon, Peter. You’re a smart, well-connected man who could have gone into any number of ventures. Did you really need to go into illegal gambling to open an Internet Sweepstakes Cafe.

Nehr says what makes his business different and legal is that he sells a product: the phone card.

“The other establishments, there was never a prepaid phone card,” he said. “Everyone else has been selling Internet time. I opened a store that sells prepaid long distance cards, and I promote it by having a sweepstakes . . . just like when you go to McDonalds and they have a game.”

That makes little difference to Coats.

“As far as we are concerned, they are illegal,” he said, adding that if he received any complaints about Nehr’s business, “then we would send them a notice like we have in the past.”

Unfortunately for Rep. Nehr, Coats has some pretty strong words:

“We told you our opinion. You chose to open the business, you stand the risk.”

Rep. Nehr, please heed Sheriff Coats’ words. Divest yourself of this endeavor.

P.S. After reading this story, was anyone else reminded of former Rep. Larry Crow, who tried to shrug off concerns about being the registered agent for a porn website?

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.