By Jonathan Mattise
A bill that could bring three casino resorts to Miami-Dade and Broward counties while changing the state’s gambling regulatory environment also could shut down most of Florida’s Internet cafes.
That might not include, however, closing veterans-oriented locations like Allied Veterans of the World on 14th Street in Vero Beach.
State Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff, R-Fort Lauderdale, said a provision cracking down on Internet cafes — storefronts offering “sweepstakes” games critics call unregulated simulated gambling — won’t be in the gaming bill she and Rep. Erik Fresen, R-Miami, will release next week. But she does hope to tweak the bill to close the cafes.
“I think there’s a statutory provision that protects the (Internet cafes) for the veterans. There are about 37 of them,” Bogdanoff said. “The rest that have basically popped up everywhere in strip malls are unregulated, and my hope would be to shut them down.”
Bogdanoff would join Rep. Scott Plakon, R-Longwood, and Sen. Steve Oelrich, R-Gainesville, in addressing the cafes in the 2012 legislative session.
Plakon and Oelrich have reintroduced identical bills to outlaw the use of simulated gambling devices in Internet cafes and arcades, including veterans group locations.
Their efforts failed last session when state Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Venice, put all proposals regulating gambling in limbo pending a study by her staff.
Rep. Gayle Harrell, R-Stuart, said she’ll be on board as a co-sponsor for Plakon’s bill.
“I have a great fear of what goes on in these (cafes),” Harrell said. “This is unregulated gambling in the state of Florida, and we have never allowed that, and we should not allow that.”
Rep. William Snyder, R-Stuart, said he’s in favor of closing down the sweepstakes centers. Snyder also said he’d vote against casino resorts.
Jacksonville attorney Kelly Mathis, who has testified before local and state committees for Allied Veterans of the World, said the cafes sell Internet time and give away free chances to win cash through a sweepstakes.
But the Florida Council on Compulsive Gambling says the number of Internet cafes and arcades is rising — from 400 or 500 in 2009 to 1,400-plus in 2010. And because most are in neighborhood strip malls, they’re simply “convenience gambling.”
Allied, with locations across Florida and in other states, claims the group has donated more than $2.5 million to the causes of veterans and first responders in Florida during the last five years.
But the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services “Gift Giver’s Guide” estimates the organization donated only 1 percent of the money it spent in 2009 to such causes.
The Miami Herald contributed to this report.