Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Internet cafes brace for closure under new law


Terry Kasberg is preparing to declare bankruptcy.

He sank his savings into opening Spinners Sweepstakes, an Internet cafe in Spring Hill. He took out more than $100,000 in loans to buy the computers needed to run the games. And he signed a lease that he'll soon be forced to break.

Attracting business isn't the problem. With more than 3,000 customers since its November opening, Spinners has been a success.

But soon, a new law could shut it down.

Slot machine look-alike games operated by Internet cafes will be officially outlawed under a bill passed this week by the Florida Senate. Gov. Rick Scott plans to sign the bill into law, according to his spokeswoman, and it will take effect immediately.

Prompted by a federal and state investigation into Allied Veterans of the World that led to the resignation of Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll and the arrests three weeks ago of 57 people on gambling and other charges, the swift-moving measure has left owners reeling and customers confused.

"The impact is going to be severe," Kasberg said. "It's going to trickle down to affect everyone."

Aimee Pistey owns Clearwater's Hot Spot Cyber Center on Gulf-to-Bay Boulevard and another Internet cafe in Tampa. She'll close her doors and move the businesses to North Carolina if the bill is signed into law. Her 37 employees would immediately lose their jobs, she said.

"I was shocked," she said of the Senate's move. "I thought we'd just be regulated like in other states."

It's also a blow to her customers, who are like family, she said. Pistey knows the names of their children, grandchildren and dogs. "It's safe. It's fun. It's our world," she said of the Clearwater store, which opened in October. "It's not predatory in any way, shape or form."

At Busch Sweeps, bingo is the backup plan.

Before Internet cafes became popular, Busch Sweeps was Busch Bingo. Located in a strip mall off of Busch Boulevard in Tampa, the business' old sign still remains. The new name is spray-painted in yellow across the windows.

"If (Scott) does sign and everything goes through, we'll adapt and transition back to a bingo hall," said manager Hank Braak. In doing so, the business hopes to keep most of its customer base, though, Braak said, it will probably be forced to cut the six-person staff in half.

John Shaa, who in 2011 opened That Great Place Internet Cafe in Clearwater and Largo, recently posted a plea on his store walls: "Write to Governor Rick Scott. Regulate not eliminate Internet cafes!"

"I saved up my whole life to open this business," said Shaa, who cited his grandmother's growing boredom as his reason to run Internet cafes. "These senior citizens and retirees need a place to hang out, socialize, pass the time. They love it here, and we certainly don't take advantage of anyone."

Shaa said customers at his Clearwater store spent $3,000 on Thursday and he kept only $286.

"It's not like a casino — we don't keep 90 percent of the money," he said. "If anything, it's like bingo. Completely harmless."

Wilbur Wood, a regular patron of That Great Place, said it's not about the money. He has made it, lost it — things even out, Wood said.

"I enjoy seeing the people, sharing a good time," said Wood, 74, a New Yorker who spends half the year in Clearwater. "They give us meals and Coke. Something to do. It's much better than sitting at home and watching TV."

Authorities allege that Allied Veterans made $300 million in profits by operating the illegal machines, but donated only about $6 million to charity. The investigation continues, and law enforcement officials say they are targeting other operators.

Legislators concluded that it was time to clarify an outdated and vague state law to target the illegal games that operated under loopholes. They insisted their goal was not to shut down senior amusement centers that operate legally.

Several local governments have recently moved to limit the number of Internet sweepstakes cafes, including Tampa and Clearwater.

"We were suggesting that we wanted to see what the Legislature would do," said Clearwater Mayor George Cretekos.

The Pinellas County Sheriff's Office expects most businesses to cooperate if the law is signed.

"We are going to assume the existing cafes in violation will close voluntarily," said Sgt. David DiSano. "If not, we will consider action to close them down in accordance with the law."

Many owners seemed resigned to their fate.

Kasberg held a rally a few weeks ago, just hours after state House members passed the bill outlawing the games, with the hope of gaining some attention. He briefly considered the option again Friday before changing his mind.

"I guess I'm done. I'm a beaten man," he said. "I'm going to do my best to make sure these people are not in power again."

Shelley Rossetter can be reached at or (813) 226-3401.

Internet cafes brace for closure under new law 04/05/13 [Last modified: Friday, April 5, 2013 11:33pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Tributes pour in for ex-national security adviser Brzezinski


    WASHINGTON — Well before he went to the White House in 1977, Jimmy Carter was impressed by the views of foreign policy expert Zbigniew Brzezinski. That Carter immediately liked the Polish-born academic advising his campaign was a plus.

    Foreign policy expert Zbigniew Brzezinski died Friday.
  2. One year after deaths, Sunset Music Festival kicks off with emphasis on water and security

    Public Safety

    TAMPA — Before the beat drops, or even builds, you hear Steve-O.

    "If you don't get water you're lame!"

    "Hey! Free water! Come on!"

    Steve "Steve-O" Raymond motions to guests making the line to grab free water bottle at the entrance of the Sunset Music Festival on the grounds of the Raymond James Stadium parking lot in Tampa. ( LUIS SANTANA   |   Times)
  3. Twins eventually cash in as Rays lose, fall back to .500 (w/video)

    The Heater

    MINNEAPOLIS — The Rays could only battle their way out of trouble for so long Saturday afternoon before succumbing in a 5-2 loss to the Twins.

    MINNEAPOLIS, MN - MAY 27: Brian Dozier #2 of the Minnesota Twins celebrates hitting a two-run home run as Derek Norris #33 of the Tampa Bay Rays looks on during the eighth inning of the game on May 27, 2017 at Target Field in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The Twins defeated the Rays 5-3. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images) 700010973
  4. Rays Tales: The stories behind Corey Dickerson's ascension

    The Heater

    The 25 pounds DH/LF Corey Dickerson lost during the winter through diet and exercise are considered the primary reason for his ascension to one of the American League's most productive hitters, going into the weekend leading in hits, multi-hit games and total bases, and ranked in the top five in average, runs and …

    Tampa Bay Rays designated hitter Corey Dickerson (10) connects for a sac fly, scores Tampa Bay Rays first baseman Steve Pearce (28) in the fourth inning of the game between the Seattle Mariners and the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla. on Wednesday, June 15, 2016.
  5. Fans in Florida and beyond won't forget Gregg Allman

    Music & Concerts

    The end can come quickly for those who live fast and live hard, who create worlds with their talent and sometimes come close to throwing them away.

    This Oct. 13, 2011 file photo shows Gregg Allman performs at the Americana Music Association awards show in Nashville, Tenn. On Saturday, May 27, 2017, a publicist said the musician, the singer for The Allman Brothers Band, has died. (AP Photo/Joe Howell, File)