For a brief moment, I believe it was 2010, I was a moment away from being given a couple of “points” in an Internet cafe to be located in midtown Saint Petersburg.
Not taking those points turned out to be one of the best decisions of my life.
One of the reasons I decided against getting involved in the Internet cafe business was because then-Sherifff Jim Coats, at an after-party for the Pinellas County GOP’s Lincoln Day Dinner, warned a group of us that he would arrest anyone who opened up one of the strip mall casinos in his jurisdiction. Friends or not friends, he’d arrest us.
By the way, Rep. Peter Nehr, a one-time, temporary part-owner of an Internet cafe, was in earshot of this conversation. Perhaps he could not hear the message over the club’s loud music.
Since that warning from the Sheriff, I’ve been a staunch critic of Internet cafes. I’ve blogged several times in opposition to their legality. I’ve chastised Nehr and other political allies involved with the industry. I’ve tipped-off local law enforcement — twice — when an Internet cafe would be planned for establishment in St. Petersburg.
Needless to say, I am relieved to see Internet cafes about to be outlawed in Florida.
Internet cafes or strip mall casinos — some of which are probably rigged, most of which prey on the elderly — deserve to die. But not this way, not for these reasons.
Each Internet cafe should have been killed, like weeds, as they sprouted up. Or they should have been allowed to exist and heavily regulated, like almost every other form of gaming.
But for the Republican Legislature to ban Internet cafes because, really, the Republican Lieutenant Governor resigned because of her past association with the Internet cafe industry is just silly.
No one’s going to defend Internet cafes, certainly not me. And not the few lobbyists still advocating for the industry. But if there’s ever been a case of locking the barn door after the horse got out, this is it.
There are more than 1,000 Internet cafes throughout Florida. Most of them mom-and-pop small businesses. They occupy retail space in strip malls owned mostly by small-time developers.
Certainly, they never belonged in business in the first place. But they don’t deserve to be put out of business because some politicians have decided to cover their ass.