Crowds increase at reopened Internet cafe

Agencies pass buck on who's responsible for enforcing new law

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – More people are showing up at one Internet cafe in Jacksonville that has reopened despite a state law banning them. And others are planning to open again soon.

Pete's Retreat Cyber Cafe on Normandy Boulevard on the Westside was pretty packed Tuesday with people, a day after not a lot were there as it reopened.

Vegas Fun Zone on Blanding Boulevard is open but is not handing out cash prizes like Pete's Retreat. The family-owned business is watching what's happening at Pete's to see if its competitor is allowed to stay open and give winnings.

"We are planning on reopening," said Michelle Rager, of Vegas Fun Zone. "Our attorneys have been working on the new software. We have everything in place. We are trying to get the city to answer our questions. We are trying to get the sheriff to answer our questions. Nobody knows."

Several others in Jacksonville have called and said they too plan to reopen soon because they are using new software in the machines and say it follows state guidelines for sweepstakes rules.

Three and half months ago, the state Legislature passed a law that put the Internet cafes out of business. State Sen. John Thrasher was one of the driving forces.

He said the reopenings are something lawmakers will take up again in the next session.

"If there are still some loopholes out there, we are going to find them and again, I remind you, Jim, we are going to take a very comprehensive look next year at gaming generally in the state of Florida, and this will be a part of that," Thrasher said.

Right now, Thrasher said there are agencies who should be looking into what's happening with the cafes that are reopening.

So who regulates the Internet cafes since the new law passed?

All of the following agencies said not them: the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, the Department of Business and Professional Regulation, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, the Attorney General Office, the state attorney's office, and the city of Jacksonville.

Thrasher believes the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office should take the lead.

"Maybe they are the place to look at and remind them we have a new law on the books," Thrasher said. "They ought to have their legal folks take a look at it and then make a determination if they are within the law or not."

JSO later released this statement Tuesday afternoon:

"We want to thank Ch.4 for bringing the (re)opening of this cyber café to our attention. I can assure that we will look into it. I can't expand on our actual investigative actions -- at any specific location -- since there are pending cases. I cannot comment on any statements made by a business owner claiming to be in compliance of the law, because (again) we cannot discuss investigative activities, etc. But we do appreciate you and the public letting us know about these establishments by calling 630-0500. As legislative changes occur, which happened with this issue this past spring, we continue to work with the city to refine our processes and procedures for handling these complaints."

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