JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The owner of a Jacksonville Internet cafe is taking a gamble by reopening his business and paying out cash to players, defying a state law banning the operations.
Three months ago, Gov. Rick Scott signed the bill outlawing Internet cafes, the Legislature saying it's gambling. That came following the arrest of local attorney and the former head of the Jacksonville Fraternal Order of Police, along with the operators of Allied Veterans of the World Internet cafes.
Now one Westside business not associated with them, Pete's Retreat Cyber Cafe on Normandy Boulevard, has made some changes and reopen its doors.
Customer Mary Love just learned one of her favorite places is open again. She found out Pete's Retreat is paying out cash to winners and says she will give it a try.
"I see they are open again. Even if I don't like it, I will come once in while just to get away," Love said.
Pete Miller, the cafe's general manager, said the business has changed the machines to fall in line with the law.
"They don't resemble slot machines or things like that anymore, and they picked it apart and rewrote the software to comply with the statue as currently written," Miller said.
Before, the machines would spin like slot machines. Now, they don't spin. They just reveal like a curtain if you win.
They do something else, too. They tell customers in advance if they won. For the next reveal, it lets them know if they've won or not. They can't change the amount of cash to bet, but they can choose not to continue and get a payout.
It's the way they plan to beat the state law, and right now they're waiting to see if there's a chance they could be closed down or, worse, arrested.
"We certainly hope that does not happen," Miller said. "I could not tell you I am not concerned, but we are prepared for it and we think that we are OK."
This is the first Intenet cafe to reopen and pay out cash. The city and the state appear to be taking a hands-off approach for now on whether it will be allowed.
Miller said that's the same reaction he is getting.
"We talked to several attorneys. We talked to whoever we could speak to on an official level, but no one wants to get involved," he said.
He said no one will come and inspect his business.
"They won't do it," he said. "We were told if we open we do it at our own risk."
City officials said they were made aware of the software changes, but they don't enforce the laws. That would be the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office. Staff there says it's more of a city problem, but it appears both of the agencies will sit down in the near future and decide if they need to take action.
Meanwhile, other cafes are expected to reopen with the same programs in the near future.