Jacksonville councilman wants to ban 'simulated gaming machines'

State law challenged, so city may ban machines used by internet cafes

By Jim Piggott - Reporter

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - City leaders are considering a new tactic in efforts to shut down more than 100 internet cafes operating in Jacksonville.

An attempt by the Florida Legislature in 2013 to ban internet cafes remains tied up in the courts. The games are now referred to as “sweepstakes” and operators have been successful in keeping them open.

Last November, City Council passed a moratorium on such businesses, but the businesses have still proliferated. So rather than trying to ban adult game rooms, the proposed new ordinance would make the machines they use illegal.

The businesses use computers that function similar to slot machines. The ordinance calls these simulating gaming devices and wants to make them illegal.

Local operators are scratching their heads, asking if the games are legal elsewhere, why would they not be legal here?

"If they don’t want to acknowledge it as legal gambling, then they should not give people a license to open up these places," said Laura, who works at one of the businesses.

The city has received requests for 140 permits to operate adult gaming rooms, and there are 90 that currently operate with permits. Last fall, News4Jax found 94 such businesses operating and it is believed more have opened since.

City Councilman Al Ferarro has been pushing to ban internet cafes for over a year. He thinks the public has been deceived into thinking the game rooms offer legal gambling. While that issue is still being fought out in court, his legislation calls for it to be illegal for anyone to run a game room where these devices are being used.

Operators found in violation would be fined $2,000 for a first offense; $5,000 for a second offense and $10,000 for a third or additional violation.

The 90 gaming rooms that have permits would be allowed to stay open for one year.

Other council members say this ban could be very tricky and they have to read up on the proposal before they get behind it.

It is also likely that if this bill becomes law, it will be challenged in court.

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