Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

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.

Pinellas County to debate limits on Internet cafes 03/08/13 [Last modified: Friday, March 8, 2013 10:49pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Rep. Wilson accuses White House chief of staff of 'character assassination,' calls for apology

    Nation

    WASHINGTON - Rep. Frederica S. Wilson, D-Fla., on Sunday called White House chief of staff John F. Kelly "a puppet of the president" and said he should apologize for having made false claims about her while defending President Donald Trump's military condolence calls.

    Rep. Frederica Wilson, D-Fla., talks to reporters, Wednesday, Oct. 18, 2017, in Miami Gardens, Fla. (AP Photo/Alan Diaz) FLAD103
  2. Metal engine cover piece breaks off jet, falls from sky in Clearwater

    Accidents

    CLEARWATER — A piece of metal broke off a jet leaving St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport Sunday morning, but the aircraft turned around and landed safely about 8:40 a.m., according to investigators.

  3. AP Top 25: USF stays ahead of UCF, but just barely

    Blogs

    USF remains ahead of UCF in the latest AP Top 25 poll - but just barely.

    Quinton Flowers and USF dropped one spot to No. 17 in the latest rankings.
  4. Lightning Strikes! podcast: Breaking down the Bolts' record start

    Blogs

    In this episode of our Lightning Strikes! podcast, we break down the Lightning's record 7-1-1 start. Why are Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos clicking so well? Why Mikhail Sergachev is likely here …

    Why are Steven Stamkos, pictured, and Nikita Kucherov clicking so well?
  5. Girl's fatal fall aboard cruise ship in Miami raises concerns over safety

    Transportation

    A child's fatal fall aboard a cruise ship a week ago appears to be an unusual accident, but it still may raise concerns about safety for potential passengers traveling with children.

    Friends and family mourn Zion Smith, the 8-year-old girl who fell to her death aboard a Carnival cruise in Miami this weekend. [Image from Facebook]