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Pinellas-Pasco judge refuses to grant injunction for Internet cafe

CLEARWATER — A Palm Harbor Internet sweepstakes cafe owner wanted Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Judge John A. Schaefer to stop the Pinellas sheriff from seizing his equipment and shutting down his business.

Cafe owner Charles P. Bartlett Sr. also wanted a full hearing before the judge to explain why his business, Reel Fun of Pinellas LLC, is not an illegal gambling operation, as Sheriff Jim Coats has claimed. But Reel Fun was out of luck Friday.

"This court is not going to grant a temporary injunction to preclude the prosecution of any potential criminal case and preclude the seizure of the equipment," Schaefer said at an hour-long hearing. "I think that violates the separation of powers."

Larry Crow, one of the attorneys representing Reel Fun, said he will file an amended complaint within 10 days, apparently hoping for a different result.

But Coats, who attended the hearing, is undeterred in his effort to rid Pinellas of Internet sweepstakes cafes. The cafes sell Internet time or phone cards to customers who access casino-style sweepstakes games on computers in the cafes. Game winners get cash.

"If they continue to operate, we will take enforcement action," Coats said Friday. "The judge said he can't interfere with the sheriff's responsibility to conduct criminal investigations."

On May 13, Coats sent letters to four Internet sweepstakes cafes warning them that if they did not stop operating in 15 days — May 27 — they could face criminal charges. On May 27, Reel Fun, at 36157 U.S. 19 in Palm Harbor, filed its request for an injunction.

Contact Demorris A. Lee at dalee@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4174.

Pinellas-Pasco judge refuses to grant injunction for Internet cafe 06/03/11 [Last modified: Friday, June 3, 2011 9:24pm]
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