Palm Beach County, Fla., commissioners recently approved a temporary ban on new Internet cafes that some consider to be hosting casino-like gaming activities. Some patrons might consider the activity fun and games, but some advocacy groups claim the establishments condone an illegal form of gambling.
Internet cafes of this kind allow customers to purchase Internet time on computers equipped with software that emulates slot machines and other games typically played in casinos, said John Sowinski, president of advocacy group NoCasinos.org. The cafes claim they’re not engaged in gambling because users win prizes, rather than money. These “sweepstakes” could be as simple as a free soda.
But some organizations claim that these Internet cafes also are dispensing small sums of money, which would violate gambling laws. One Palm Beach County commissioner, Steven Abrams, said he recently won a small amount of money after going to an Internet cafe, according to The Palm Beach Post.
Florida does not regulate Internet cafes, but there is legislation circulating in the state Legislature. News reports last week said a bill pertaining to the ban on Internet cafes in the state passed in the House, however, did not pass in the state Senate.
According to the Palm Beach Post, the county’s seven-member commission agreed, in a “first reading,” to tentatively halt new Internet cafes from opening in the county’s unincorporated sections. Of the seven commissioners, only Abrams was against the moratorium. The board decided on a six-month ban, according to the news report.
Internet cafes like the ones in Palm Beach County have popped up across the nation, but some governments have cracked down on the establishments more so than others. Last year, Massachusetts passed a bill to ban Internet cafes and sweepstakes video gaming.
On March 22, the commissioners will make a final vote on the moratorium, said Jon MacGillis, director of the Palm Beach County Zoning Division. The temporary ban bought time at the county level while the Florida state Legislature tackled the same issue. MacGillis said it will be highly unlikely that the state will adopt new rules for Internet cafes.
Sowinski said activity at the cafes circumvents Florida gaming laws and that Palm Beach County’s made the right decision to ban new Internet cafes.
“These should be banned outright throughout Florida,” Sowinski said. “There are some [Florida] jurisdictions that have done so through the judicial process; there are others that have used local government ordinance and regulations to keep them out.”