LAKE CITY, Fla. – A dozen Lake City internet cafe operators have been ordered to close their “sweepstakes” businesses after their licenses were revoked by the city's growth management department.
Letters sent Tuesday to the 12 operators demanded that the 13 cafes they operate cease business within the next 10 days.
Several of the cafes have been the scene of recent robberies.
The internet café businesses that received the letters all submitted business license applications affirming their businesses were compliant with all laws and rules, city officials said.
Many internet cafes indicate that their operations are “sweepstakes” rather than gambling, but even sweepstakes must be held “in connection with and incidental to the sale of consumer products or services,” city officials said.
“Sweepstakes are designed to be something a business uses to promote another product, not as the product itself. Businesses who conduct sweepstakes as a primary means of revenue are not compliant with this statute,” said Lake City Growth Management Director Rod Hoefert. “While this differentiation might not result in criminal prosecution, the city of Lake City is not obligated to permit these businesses to operate.”
Cathy Avins is the manager at Cyber City internet cafe. She said they not only have a license to operate gambling machines, but that an inspector has been out to inspect the machines.
“So they knew what it was. No matter how they try to turn it now, they knew what the machines were,” Avins said.
After the 10 days, signs will be placed on the doors of the businesses still in operation indicating the business is not licensed. Continued operation could lead to civil fines and potential criminal prosecution.
Hoefert, the newly appointed building official for Lake City, came from the city of Gainesville where such businesses are already prohibited.
“If these businesses ignore our order, they’ll begin to accumulate daily fines until they end up before the city magistrate. At that point, the property owner could be held liable, and if needed, law enforcement could be called in to assist,” Hoefert said.
News4Jax Crime and Safety Analyst Gil Smith says the sweepstakes businesses must have more than one source of revenue.
“So I’m sure they did some kind of investigation to find out if it was their primary source of revenue and how they were getting their funds for this, which made it not a sweepstakes.”
The cease and desist order only affects the businesses located within the city limits. It has no bearing on facilities operating outside the city limits.
The following businesses received cease and desist letters:
- Casa Blanca – 543 SW Main Blvd.
- Cyber Center – 1037 W US Hwy 90 and 1101 W US Hwy 90
- Fish Arcade – 1472 W US Hwy 90
- Fun Time Arcade – 130 NW Railroad St.
- Fun Zone – 2941 W US Hwy 90
- Happy Times by Leslie – 894 SW Main Blvd.
- Golden Kave – 642 S Marion Ave.
- Lucky Duck – 2938 W US Hwy 90
- Lucky Cyber Café – 134 SW Florida Gateway Blvd.
- Slots-a-Fun – 366 SW Knox St.
- Cyber Center – 1445 SW Main Blvd.
- The Horseshoe – 1023 E Duval St.
Robberies were reported at Fish Arcade on April 27 and July 21, the Golden Kave on May 3 and The Horseshoe on March 19.
Despite the robberies, Avins believes they’re all getting a bad rap from city leaders.
“If they would take the time to come out and visit some of these places and see what they're like and what kind of people are in here, they might realize that this isn’t the picture they’re painting,” Avins said. “They’re painting something like back in the mob days and we have all these secret hidden rooms and we’re doing all this illegal gambling. It’s not like that.”