TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - State lawmakers will start the 2013 legislative session with no plans to regulate Internet cafes.
The sweepstakes businesses exist though a loophole in state law.
Efforts to ban the storefront casinos fell late in session last year. This year a bill has been filed to slow down the expansion.
Internet cafes sell Internet time to customers, who then use their computers to play games that look an awful lot like slot machines.
Opponents of Internet cafes say they're simply renegade casinos, unregulated and preying on the poor.
Supporters call them small businesses that have created more than 10,000 Florida jobs. To the state legislature, they're simply a headache.
Last year, the House moved to ban Internet cafes.
"These are truly the crack cocaine of gaming," said Rep. Scott Plakon, who spearheaded the effort.
The Senate never took up the bill, and Plakon lost reelection.
The issue of Internet cafes looked dead this year. A Senate committee on gaming decided to cancel meetings before a bill could be drafted, and all gaming legislation was put on hold while lawmakers gathered more data.
With no legislation in site, state Sen. John Thrasher stepped in with a bill to stop the expansion of the cafes.
"These things are unregulated," Thrasher said. "They are causing some issues around the state. Let's take a stop, stop right now."
The bill keeps any new Internet cafes from opening for two years and allows the ones in business now to keep the games going.
An investigation is underway to find out how a gaming expansion in Florida would affect tourism and other established Florida industries. The study will be used in the creation of legislation for the 2014 legislative session.
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