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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Internet cafe operators face no screens for criminal past

4

April

Three operators of Internet cafes stood before the Florida Senate Gaming Committee last month and urged them to have mercy on their industry.

They told them of the job-creating potential of their business, their practice of offering free meals and free food to patrons, and how their gaming centers were favorite destinations for senior citizens.

What they didn’t tell them about was their past brushes with the law — from larceny, grand theft, check kiting and witness tampering to arrests for operating illegal gambling houses.

Under Florida law, owners and operators of Internet cafes do not have to pass any criminal background checks to be in business in Florida. And only those companies that operate electronic sweepstakes games with prizes valued at more than $5,000 must register with the state Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. Adult arcade operators do not have to register at all.

“The law is very vague, put in place for McDonald’s monopoly games,’’ said Erin Gillespie, a department spokeswoman. “It was never meant to be a loophole for gambling. The law doesn’t have a lot of teeth to it.”

Mary Lucas, the manager of the Shooting Stars Sweepstakes in Mineola, warned the committee that they would “be putting 16,000 of us out of work.”

“I have a family. My employees have families. We pay taxes and we are family to our customers,’’ said Lucas, 47, who also lists her last name as Gordon,  has seven misdemeanor worthless check charges against her and was convicted of embezzling $1,800 in Virginia in 1999. She could not be reached for comment Wednesday. More here.



[Last modified: Thursday, April 4, 2013 1:32am]

    

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