Tampa to consider new Internet sweepstakes cafe ban - WFLA News Channel 8

Tampa to consider new Internet sweepstakes cafe ban

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TAMPA, FL (WFLA) -

Tampa City Council is scheduled to consider a ban on opening so-called Internet or sweepstakes cafes in the city limits on Thursday.

The cafes generally allow customers to purchase Internet time and play games that often look like slot machines – prompting allegations that the cafes are providing unregulated gambling.

"The difference between a regular place where you wager, whether it's the dog track or casinos, is that there is controls over how the games are operated," said Tampa City Councilman Mike Suarez. "These Internet cafes have no controls whatsoever."

A public hearing is scheduled for Thursday on an ordinance that would ban any new businesses offering these sweepstakes games, but would allow any existing cafes to stay. A state ban, if passed by the legislature, could supercede that.

The proposed ordinance would also limit signage and ban individuals under age 18 from existing cafes of this kind.

As the owner of Tampa cafe Bit Bar, Richard Ratcliff is keeping an eye on the process even though his business would be allowed to stay.

He's concerned about any additional regulations for the industry in the future.

"You can regulate a business to death," said Ratcliff, whose business in downtown Tampa offers computers with Internet access on one side of the room and a bar with a large screen TV on the other.

Ratcliff also said he thinks "what's scaring people is the visual effect of it" because the screens have a casino-like look.

The cafes, which have been controversial for years, have come under new fire recently after authorities took aim at dozens of cafes connected with the Allied Veterans of the World. The organization is accused of claiming to send proceeds to charity but donating only a small percentage of revenues.

The focus on Allied Veterans of the World prompted the resignation of Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll, whose public relations firm previously worked with the group. She is not charged in the case.

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