Pasco County Sheriff Chris Nocco is to be commended for following the lead of Pinellas County Sheriff Jim Coats in cracking down on Internet sweepstakes cafes. By any commonsense standard, these enterprises are promoting illegal, unregulated gambling operations. The Florida Legislature should make that clear when its members return to Tallahassee in the spring, but until then, the sheriffs are to be commended for enforcing Florida's gambling laws.
Last week, Pasco deputies shut down four Internet sweepstakes cafes after owners ignored cease and desist letters from Nocco. The Pasco action followed a raid by Pinellas deputies on three cafes, which resulted in the seizure of 198 computers and $20,000 in cash, evidence these growing de facto gambling parlors have become highly profitable businesses.
Nocco and Coats, who has previously taken on the cafes, are relying on state laws that strictly regulate who can operate slot machines, which are defined in state law as any machines that provide the user a chance to win money or something else of value "as a result of the insertion of any piece of money, coin, or other object." Cafe owners insist all they are doing is selling phone card time, which allow customers to access Internet sweepstakes games, an argument that prevailed in a Marion County court last year. But this illogical reasoning would seem to be a difference without a distinction.
An effort earlier this year in Tallahassee to specifically regulate the cafes failed. Lawmakers should not let that happen again. Until then, Nocco and Coats are doing their jobs keeping illegal gambling out of their jurisdictions.