Internet cafe employees protest loss of jobs

More than 100 former employees file for unemployment

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - More than 100 people out of work after Gov. Rick Scott signed the Internet cafe ban last week gathered to protest Wednesday morning as they filed for unemployment benefits.

The protest was held outside the WorkSource building on Norwood Avenue.

Robin Rukab said as soon as Scott signed the ban, the computers went offline at her Lucky 7 Internet Cafe on the Westside.

"We weren't notified that he was signing. No one notified us," Rukab said. "Our service was just cut. Frontier, our service vendor, must have known and they cut our service."

With Lucky 7 and Copacabana on Norwood Avenue closing, people who worked there no longer have work.

"Did he think about all the people who lost jobs? No he did not," Rukab said. "And that's what he ran on. And now he turned around. In Jacksonville, at least 600 people lost jobs."

"It's hurtful," said Teresa Windham, who could be homeless after losing her job at an Internet café. "I go to bed every night crying, not knowing where my kids are going to sleep, if we're going to have a roof over our head."

Former employees said they feel like they've been unfairly targeted for the Allied Veterans of the World racketeering scandal. They believe lawmakers are jumping the gun, punishing them for an isolated illegal operation.

"We are more than willing to be taxed in this industry," Rukab said. "The state of Florida could get up to $200 million in revenue from taxes. That's not including unemployment taxes that we would pay."

But state Sen. John Thrasher, who spearheaded this legislation, said it doesn't target anyone, it just defines what legal gambling is in Florida.

"I don't think any of us who care about this great state want to condone illegal activity," Thrasher said. "And it may not have been their choice or they may not have understood it was illegal, but I hope they find other suitable work or these facilities retool these kinds of machines they had. So they're legal machines and people can continue to work there."

Windham said she hopes Florida lawmakers, including Scott, will hear her story and reconsider the shutdowns.

"When you're taking away innocent people's job away from them and they don't know where they're going to wake up, if they have to get out, or you know, they don't know where they're going to get their next meal from, that's not right," Windham said.

A spokesman for the governor released this statement Wednesday:

"The Legislature did the right thing to crack down on illegal gaming operators in light of the multi-state Allied Veterans criminal conspiracy. Governor Scott's top priority continues to be creating more jobs and opportunities for Florida Families. Florida's private sector has created nearly 300,000 jobs since he's been Governor and our unemployment rate continues to drop."

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