City seeking to turn moratorium on Internet cafes into permanent ban
Published: Monday, July 7, 2014 at 6:27 p.m.
Last Modified: Monday, July 7, 2014 at 6:27 p.m.
The city of Gainesville has a moratorium on new Internet cafes in effect until Sept. 18, but the City Commission could make that prohibition permanent before then.
An ordinance for a permanent ban is expected to come before the City Commission in August. The board previously approved a six-month moratorium in January and eventually extended it to Sept. 18.
"The moratorium just buys time to come up with a more permanent solution, in a nutshell," Assistant City Attorney Sean McDermott said.
The proposed ordinance would establish a prohibition on Internet cafes in the city's land development code that would be effective immediately upon getting the City Commission's final approval, he said.
"Across the city, it's going to essentially prohibit anything that's termed ‘simulated gambling establishments,' " he said, which are commonly known as Internet cafes.
The first reading of the prohibition ordinance is tentatively scheduled for Aug. 7 with a second reading, if the City Commission decides to move forward with it, on Aug. 21, McDermott said. The City Plan Board already voted in late June to recommend approval of the ordinance.
Around two dozen Internet cafes had surfaced in Gainesville back in 2011, where customers apparently bought Internet time and in return received sweepstakes entries that displayed cash prizes as simulated slots shown on a computer screen.
Allied Veterans of the World, an Internet cafe operator, became the subject of a criminal investigation on allegations it donated a fraction of the money it brought in to veterans organizations while pocketing hundreds of millions of dollars instead.
Jennifer Carroll, Florida's former lieutenant governor, had been a prior consultant for Allied Veterans and ended up resigning in the midst of the investigation, which resulted in dozens of indictments.
Although the Florida Legislature passed a law in the spring of 2013 that was intended to shut down these operations, the law wasn't an outright ban. Instead, it prohibited the cash prizes, computer equipment and gift cards that were used at such establishments.
Eventually, Internet cafes began opening again around Florida, including two in Gainesville.
Gator Hot Spots, located at 2109 NW 13th St., was raided by police and shut down in September, while Royal Sweepstakes, another cafe located at 2615 NW 13th St., eventually closed, too.
Gainesville Police Department spokesman Officer Ben Tobias said it's up to the State Attorney's Office whether to bring charges against the owner of Gator Hot Spots, Terry Land.
With Gator Hot Spots and Royal Sweepstakes both out of commission, Tobias said there don't appear to be any other cafes running in Gainesville.
"We aren't aware of any operating right now, and we keep a pretty good lookout on it," he said.
Contact Morgan Watkins at 338-3104 or email@example.com.