Advertisement

You will be redirected to the page you want to view in  seconds.

Strip-mall casinos could be shut down
Strip-mall casinos could be shut down: State legislators are moving fast to shut down the state's 1000 unregulated strip-mall or Internet cafe casinos. The businesses are typically located in strip-mall casinos. Customers play on video-like slots machines. Video by Chris Umpierre
Chris Umpierre/news-press.com

More

Marco Island’s Brian Moore spent Friday afternoon playing video-like slot machines at a small Naples casino tucked in a strip mall along U.S. 41 East. Moore and his elderly mother planned to spend $20 apiece with the hopes of hitting it big inside 777 Casino Slots.

“This is good, clean entertainment,” Moore said. “There’s no alcohol served here. It is gambling, but I mean we’re not doing anything wrong. You just need to know your limits.”

Many state legislators disagree.

With an expanding statewide law enforcement crackdown into racketeering at strip-mall gaming parlors and Florida out a lieutenant governor, the state Legislature is moving fast to shutter the adult arcade industry. The House Select Committee on Gaming passed a bill, HB 155, on Friday that would prohibit gambling at Internet cafes.

State Sen. Garrett Richter, R-Naples, told The News-Press on Friday his Senate gaming committee will pass a similar measure on Monday. If passed by the House and Senate and signed by Gov. Rick Scott, the new law would end a gray area in state statutes used by operators of Internet cafes that the games are contests of skill. There are about 1,000 unregulated Internet cafes in Florida. Operators estimate there are about 20 Internet cafes in Southwest Florida.

“All Internet cafes are illegal in the state,” Richter said. “They have managed to open up through a loophole in state law. We’re trying to close all the loopholes.”

The state has estimated that $1 billion in Internet cafe proceeds have gone untaxed. The same sum played on the Florida Lottery would have resulted in $350 million more for Florida education. At Internet sweepstakes casinos, customers buy phone or Internet cards and swipe them at video-like slot machines, usually PCs. Winnings are paid in cash or in Publix or local restaurant gift cards.

The centers have been able to proliferate because they have claimed to be charities and businesses that only offer “sweepstakes” prizes, despite numerous critics who contend they are gambling halls that prey on the elderly and poor and have been able to skirt the state’s regulations and the 35 percent tax rate licensed pari-mutuels are charged by Florida.

(Page 2 of 2)

Richter admitted legislators are moving fast on the issue because of the recent strip-mall casinos scandal. The state arrested 57 people and shut down 49 Internet cafes run by Allied Veterans of the World for their roles in an organized $300 million conspiracy. Former Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll, who had ties to Allied Veterans of the World, resigned Tuesday.

“Her resigning has really drawn attention to it,” Richter said. “But it’s not like the House or the Senate is taking a knee-jerk response. This is something we are proceeding on in a methodical manner. We are going to get these illegal Internet cafes banned.”

The Palms Internet cafe on U.S. 41 in Naples was shut down by state investigators on Wednesday, according to nearby businesses in the St. Andrews shopping center.

“They were clients of ours,” Trans4mations Hair Salon owner Sandra Ruiz said. “We never thought what they were doing was illegal. They had a lot of older clientele go there. It was shocking.”

Before this week’s arrests, lawmakers had been contemplating a moratorium that would have prohibited new Internet cafes as they continued on a two-year review of gaming in Florida. Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam backed the latest proposal.

“Internet casinos are a front for gambling and a breeding ground for other illegal activity,” Putnam said in a release. “We must close the loophole in the law that has enabled them to invade our communities. The House Committee’s vote today brings us one step closer to shutting down Internet casinos and improving the safety of Florida's communities.”

— The News-Service of Florida contributed to this report

More In Local News

Local Deals

Flip, shop and save on specials from your favorite retailers on Marco Island

GET DEALS NOW

Marco beach cam

RESTAURANTS

Find local restaurants, read
and submit reviews

Celebrating the best of South Lee and North Naples

READ MORE

Reader Photos

Get the Hurricane Hub app

DealChicken.com

Sign up to save 50-90% off SWFL dining, shopping, spas, activities and more. Every day.