Internet Cafe ban set to pass House, probably not Senate

By on February 29, 2012

The Florida House is poised to approve a plan to shut down Internet café games that critics compare to slot machines, but two key senators said Wednesday that such a ban would die in the Senate, reports Jim Saunders of the News Service of Florida.

“I don’t think the House’s ban is going to get anywhere after it leaves the House, that’s for sure,” said Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, a Miami Republican who is sponsoring an alternative proposal to regulate Internet cafés.

The Senate Regulated Industries Committee in January overwhelmingly approved Diaz de la Portilla’s regulatory approach (SB 380), while refusing to support a ban. Meanwhile, Rep. Scott Plakon, a Longwood Republican who is sponsoring the House ban, has repeatedly said he will not support the regulation idea, describing it as “amnesty” for Internet cafes that offer gambling.

“These are the functional equivalent of slot machines,” Plakon said.

The House on Wednesday took up Plakon’s bill (HB 3) and approved an amendment to protect games offered by charity groups such as the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars and Disabled American Veterans. A vote on the overall bill likely will come Thursday.

An estimated 1,000 Internet cafes have opened in Florida during the past several years, with many popping up in strip shopping centers. While the cafes typically sell such things as Internet time or phone cards, they profit from computerized sweepstakes-style games that the industry says are allowed under state law.

But opponents contend the games are a form of illegal gambling and that the cafes particularly target low-income people. Plakon said state law needs changes to make clear that the games are prohibited.

Diaz de la Portilla has proposed a series of regulations for the industry, such as requiring certification that games meet legal standards, imposing a $100 fee on each terminal and restricting advertising outside cafes.

He and other regulation supporters argue, in part, that Plakon’s bill would close the cafes and put thousands of people out of work — which Diaz de la Portilla described as “total craziness.”

Plakon said Wednesday the businesses could stay open if they sell other goods or services, such as phone cards and Internet time. But he said he has seen people in the cafes losing hundreds or thousands of dollars on the games.

“These are right in our neighborhoods, right next door to the Publix and the dry cleaner,” Plakon said.

But Senate Regulated Industries Chairman Dennis Jones, R-Seminole, said his committee has already shown that it wants to approve café regulations, not impose a ban.

“Essentially, what they (House supporters of a ban) are saying is they want nothing to happen this session,” Jones said.

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