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Post-conviction, reopened Internet cafes worry

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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The state shut Internet cafes down and arrested key players in the gambling scheme in Florida earlier this year, yet Internet cafes are opening up again almost weekly in Jacksonville and other parts of the state.

Now with the conviction of Kelly Mathis, the attorney for Allied Veterans of the World, some are wondering how long the new cafes will be allowed to stay open.

Pete's Retreat Cyber Cafe reopened over the summer despite the state changing the law making Internet cafes illegal. The business is doing quite well, and there are now 15 Internet cafes open in the River City.

Janie Ramsey said she enjoys playing in the game rooms now and feels they are on the up and up. She didn't think that early before the state crackdown, but now believes they are legitimate.

"Most of the time I win, so that is the fun of it," Ramsey said. "I'm retired. I don't work now and I have time on my hands. You go to enjoy, like you got to enjoy something."

The owners have different thoughts. Pete Miller, who manages of Pete's Retreat, said he doesn't know what to expect now that Mathis has been convicted.

"I can't guess what they are going to do next and how we are going to react to that," Miller said. "Yeah, it's a concern and we are looking at it closely. I would still like to see them legitimize this industry, tax it and use the money for whatever, schools or whatever, as opposed to persecuting this industry."

Police say they can't talk about their plans because it's an open investigation. The city used to regulate these rooms. Now the mayor's staff says it's a police issue.

State Sen. John Thrasher said the state is reviewing gaming laws but is not sure how much of it will deal with Internet cafes.

"What we passed last year, I think some people are confused about it," Thrasher said. "Everybody said it was to prohibit Internet cafes. What we did was tighten the laws on gambling."

The owners of Pete's Retreat said they have six sites open in Jacksonville and are not planning on expanding beyond that. They still believe it's a legitimate operation and say at this point, since they have reopened, no one has shut them down -- yet.

"We have our own perspective," Miller said. "We have our own legal opinion saying what we are doing is legal per the new laws."

About the Author:

Jim Piggott is the reporter to count on when it comes to city government and how it will affect the community.