Legitimate Internet cafes fight back

Owner says she shouldn't be punished for others' actions

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Legitimate online sweepstakes business owners are pushing back against proposed legislation to close Internet cafes all across Florida.

They've created an online petition asking lawmakers to throw out the House gaming committee bill.

Lawmakers started pushing the bill after the nearly $300 million Internet cafe scheme involving Allied Veterans of the World came to light last week.

"Our livelihood is on the line here," said Robin Rukab, of Lucky 7's. "I have a family to support. It's a business. This is a clean business."

Rukab is just one of 13,000 Floridians who rely on Internet sweepstakes to make a living. She says she opened up her business not more than a year ago, and a proposed bill threatens to take everything she's worked for away.

"We're regulated, we pay our fees, we are hard-working people," she said. "So we should not be faulted for something else someone else has done."

With the online petition, Rukab and other Internet cafe owners are trying to urge lawmakers to change their minds about banning the sweepstakes businesses altogether. Rukab said she and her partners aren't getting rich.

Some customers say that in their opinion, Internet sweepstakes should not be considered illegal gambling.

"What is the difference between this, the dog track, the poker room, the lotto," Susan Ryan said.

"We a hard-working people and we shouldn't be punished for what other people are doing," Rukab said.

Internet cafe employee says bank account dropped into negative

An Internet cafe employee who doesn't want to be identified says her bank account dropped into the negative when federal investigators moved in last week at Allied Veterans of the World.

The woman said all the employees at Elite 71 experienced a reverse withdrawal rather than a direct deposit on their payday.

"Theres probably going to be a domino effect, late fees, mortgage payments, car notes," the woman said. "And I was told like me and others that it's possible it could go on our credit report."

She said she and others who worked at Elite 71 had no idea they were under federal surveillance. She said the Internet cafe was constantly busy every day of the week and sometimes overflowed with more customers than it could handle.

"Sometimes we would have a waiting list for seats," she said. "We had 100 computers, so we had a waiting list for customers to be seated."

The woman said employees of Elite 71 and other gaming sites are considering legal action.

"Some feel that with the financial hardships that they are going to get an attorney or already have an attorney to file a class action lawsuit," she said.