Thursday, February 22, 2018
News Roundup

Pinellas County to debate limits on Internet cafes

As Florida's Legislature debates whether to restrict the mushrooming number of Internet sweepstakes cafes across the state, Pinellas County is also taking up the question.

On Tuesday, the County Commission is scheduled to discuss several options for regulating the cafes, which have sprung up around the county. Often packed with senior citizens who stay for hours, playing computerized games that imitate slot machines, the cafes operate in a legal gray area. Many sell patrons cards giving them Internet access, and owners argue they are legitimate businesses; counties and cities often see them as mini casinos that prey on the elderly.

Earlier this week, Tampa's City Council voted to place a moratorium on the cafes, barring any new businesses with sweepstakes computers from opening in the city. Tampa has 13 Internet cafes already in operation, and those can remain, though the council placed new rules on them, including a prohibition on buying more sweepstakes machines or posting signs in their windows advertising gambling.

Clearwater also voted earlier this week to ban more Internet cafes from opening. With 12 in existence, Clearwater has more sweepstakes businesses than any other city in Pinellas.

Pinellas County Attorney Jim Bennett is recommending that the commission follow Tampa and Clearwater in passing a moratorium.

"My opinion is that the moratorium is the best option, as it will allow us to control the influx of new Internet cafes while allowing the time to determine the outcome of 2013 Legislative session," he wrote in a memo to the commissioners.

The commission could pass a complete ban, Bennett said, prohibiting any business "defined as an Internet cafe or otherwise designated as a house of gambling," but that could pose legal risks for the county if cafe owners choose to sue.

In 2011, the Hillsborough County Commission passed an ordinance banning the use of the sweepstakes machines. It quickly drew a legal challenge from four cafes, but in November of last year, a lawyer for the businesses said they had closed up shop and would drop their suit.

Pinellas could also decide to place more restrictions on the cafes, Bennett wrote, but this would create another problem.

Regulation "creates the appearance of approval by the county and tacitly lends a level of legitimacy to the operation of these enterprises." Any sign of approval from the county could make it harder to eventually shutter those businesses, he wrote.

Currently, there are several bills circulating in the Legislature that would limit the cafes. One, which has no Senate companion, would ban them outright. Another would hand counties and cities the power to regulate and prohibit the cafes. And a third would place a two-year moratorium on any new cafes. None has been heard in committee.

Comments
Romano: Welcome to Florida, a state more afraid of conversation than guns

Romano: Welcome to Florida, a state more afraid of conversation than guns

Gun advocates are absolutely right about this:A ban on assault weapons will not end school shootings.How do we know?Because there was a federal ban on assault weapons for 10 years, and mass killings persisted. That’s because a ban deals only with fut...
Updated: 7 minutes ago

St. Petersburg Shuffleboard club to hold soiree

ST. PETERSBURG — "Cocktails on the Courts" — an evening of Florida cuisine, libations, music, auctions, live mermaids, a two-headed calf and shuffleboard — will benefit the St. Petersburg Museum of History. The event will be held from 6 to 10 p.m. Ma...
Updated: 10 minutes ago
Note to readers: About those annoying popups on your phones

Note to readers: About those annoying popups on your phones

Dear readers, I hope that you are able to see this and that a popup saying you’ve won a gift card hasn’t taken over your phone. We have heard from many of you that these popups are preventing you from reading our news coverage.We hate them as much as...
Updated: 11 minutes ago

Pastor invites public to service at Manhattan Casino

ST. PETERSBURG — The Rev. Basha Jordan, grandson of St. Petersburg’s pioneer African-American businessman Elder Jordan, who built the historic Manhattan Casino, is inviting the community to join him and other pastors for a service at the facility on ...
Updated: 14 minutes ago

Celebration at Enoch Davis Center is Friday

ST. PETERSBURG — The Enoch Davis Center will host a free Black History Month celebration Friday. The program, which will run from from 6 to 8 p.m., will include activities for the entire family and food, entertainment, music and prizes. There will a...
Updated: 17 minutes ago
Man rescued after boat swept away, capsizes in Little Manatee River

Man rescued after boat swept away, capsizes in Little Manatee River

RUSKIN — A man was rescued early Thursday morning after Hillsborough County deputies say his boat was swept away by a strong tide and capsized in the Little Manatee River.According to the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office, a 911 call was received ...
Updated: 18 minutes ago

Crescent Heights neighborhood working to save historic church

ST. PETERSBURG — The Crescent Heights Neighborhood Association says it wants to save one of the area’s historic buildings from demolition.The association says the American Baptist Church of the Beatitudes, at 2812 Eighth St. N, is being sold to a loc...
Updated: 20 minutes ago
Goalie Maddie Rooney delivers gold medal performance for U.S.

Goalie Maddie Rooney delivers gold medal performance for U.S.

GANGNEUNG, South Korea — Maddie Rooney couldn’t stop smiling. She was on top of her game, and it didn’t seem to matter that it was a shootout against the powerhouse Canadians. The first shootout in an Olympic women’s final. ...
Updated: 25 minutes ago
It turns out flamingos may have once called Florida home

It turns out flamingos may have once called Florida home

In 2015, Conchy the flamingo showed up at Florida’s Naval Air Station Key West, and he wouldn’t leave. Normally managers on the grounds lethally remove feathered troublemakers — it can be very dangerous with birds flying around million-dollar fighter...
Updated: 28 minutes ago
Sports Day Tampa Bay podcast: Rays are adding players?

Sports Day Tampa Bay podcast: Rays are adding players?

The Rays signed veteran outfielder Carlos Gomez to a one-year contract one day after trading Steven Souza Jr. to Arizona. In his latest podcast, Rick Stroud discusses reaction to the moves from players, as well as super fan Dick Vitale.Plus, the Bucs...
Updated: 1 hour ago