Since the Florida Legislature failed to act this year to clarify the legal status of the state's burgeoning, unregulated Internet cafe industry, Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri should continue to crack down on the predatory gambling parlors. Internet cafes continue to pop up across Florida under the absurd proposition they are not illegal gambling enterprises under current law. Until the Legislature changes the law or regulates Internet cafes, law enforcement officials should continue to enforce the law and not look the other way.
In an arrest warrant last month for Palm Harbor Internet cafe owner Megan Crisante, deputies cited a report by gambling expert Robert Sertell that said the claim that the businesses offer phone cards to play on-site computer games for cash prizes is a distinction without a difference. By any commonsense standard, the cafes are gambling parlors.
The Legislature could have easily resolved this issue. But bills calling for the outright ban on Internet cafes or tighter regulatory oversight failed to pass. Meanwhile the Internet cafes continue to flourish, with many of the businesses exploiting an association with charities to garner public support. But hiding behind semantics and charity doesn't make the cafes anything better than an illegal for-profit gaming scheme. Gualtieri and his law enforcement colleagues should continue to enforce existing law, because the wait for the Legislature to act could take forever.