ZEPHYRHILLS — Anyone considering opening an Internet sweepstakes cafe within city limits better hold that thought for a year.
The City Council on Monday night unanimously passed an emergency ordinance placing a moratorium on accepting or processing applications for any Internet cafes while Zephyrhills staffers study the industry and come up with ways to best regulate the businesses. The moratorium took effect immediately.
The ordinance states that some communities have had trouble with the cafes and had difficulty dealing with those issues, because their city codes didn't address such outfits or take into account how they might affect other neighboring homes and businesses.
"We have not had such a concern in our community so far," City Manager Jim Drumm told council members before the vote, adding he wants to be proactive.
While Zephyrhills does not have any Internet cafes and no applications for one have been received, Drumm said, the city has had inquiries recently.
"I've heard nothing good about these Internet cafes," council member Charlie Proctor said before the vote. "I don't want them coming into our little community."
Drumm said it's not the city's intent to ban such businesses.
Council vice president Jodi Wilkeson said it's important to be careful not to "close out legitimate businesses" and thinks the moratorium is a good approach.
Customers at such cafes purchase Internet time or a phone card that they then use to access casino-style sweepstakes games on computers. Points won in the games can be redeemed for cash.
The Coalition of Florida's Internet Cafes says the businesses are not gambling facilities and are legal in Florida. They say the games merely promote the business — like the peel-back card prize promotions that fast-food restaurants use. They insist winning is predetermined, not up to chance.
Drumm said if the study is done before the 12 months is up, officials could lift the moratorium earlier.