Jacksonville City Council considering internet cafe changes

Adult game rooms cropping up throughout the city are under scrutiny

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The presence of adult arcades, or what we used to call internet cafes, is nothing new in Jacksonville, but the city is still trying to regulate these businesses.

The latest measure calls for a ban on simulated gaming devices and would give those that have legal permits a year to get rid of them or shut down. On Friday, City Council members had a chance to ask questions once again about a proposed measure to make that happen.

A handful of council members were at the meeting, where Councilman Al Ferraro -- one of the new legislation's backers -- said that the council is actually fighting him over these newly-proposed regulations.

"It’s being held up by council members, make no mistake," said Ferraro, who added that said he is trying to make neighborhoods safer. "They’re saying we’re trying to shut people down out of business, trying to make it something that is completely different than (what) it is."

Ferraro said the rooms and games are a public nuisance, and that is why they should be shut down. He pointed to crime statistics that show from January 2018 to April 2019 there have been 504 calls to service to these businesses. He said that does not include a murder last week at one location.

There were a handful of business owners at the meeting. Ryan Strickland, who owns two local arcades, said he and other business owners have been grappling with the crime issue, but they believe the measure Ferraro is pushing is unfair.

"I do not think it’s fair to the employees and businesses, but more concerning is the public safety. We put a proposal forward that would address public safety immediately rather than putting it off for 365 days," Strickland said.

Attorney Kelly Mathis, who was involved and arrested in the Allied Veterans raids a few years back only to see all the charges against him dropped, now represents some of the business owners. He told the council that the city is going about regulating these businesses the wrong way.

"They had enforcement measures on the books," Mathis said. "That would've dealt with all of the problems we are hearing about today and they simply stopped enforcing that because of changes in the law."

He added that the council could have just modified existing laws to better regulate these businesses.

The new measure is still in committee and could be voted on by the full council in a month.

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