Supporters to rally for Internet sweepstakes cafes - WFLA News Channel 8

Internet cafe supporters rally against proposed state ban

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HERNANDO COUNTY, FL (WFLA) -

The future for Internet cafes in Florida looks pretty grim. On Friday the Florida House voted overwhelmingly to approve a ban on the cafes. Most expect the Senate will do the same and send the bill to Gov. Rick Scott.

As it happened, dozens of people gathered in front of Spinners Sweepstakes Cafe in Spring Hill to ask state lawmakers to reconsider.

"I'm appalled by the words that are being spoken about us," said Terry Kasberg, owner of Spinners. "They need to get off their seats up there and come down and actually visit one of these places; they really should."

Lawmakers are acting after a Florida Department of Law Enforcement investigation into the Allied Veterans of the World charity. Investigators accused operators of running a $290 million illegal gambling business that lined the pockets of its owners instead of helping charities like it was supposed to.

"This will be one of the largest contractions of gaming that we've experienced in our state certainly over the last 50 or 100 years," said Rep. Carlos Trujillo, R-Miami and sponsor of the ban. "It sends a message to all the people who are out there stealing from seniors and exploiting the good names of veterans. We don't want you here in Florida. You weren't welcome before. You won't be welcome in the future."

The house voted 108-7 in favor of the bill. Kasberg hopes the senate gives it a second-look before acting.

"I'm hoping that they will pause this and really consider the impact it's going to have on families ... really consider it strongly," he said. "My wife and I - we put everything we had into this business. We put over $100,000 into this business. We borrowed money with secured loans to start this business. If we're closed down...it's going to affect us profoundly. We're going to have to file bankruptcy. As soon as the landlord sues us for the remainder of the lease - we're going to have to file bankruptcy and I'm sure that's the way it's going to be across the state of Florida with a lot of people."

Most of those at the Spinners rally were senior citizens. The exception was Jennifer Cooley, a single mother of five who works at Ducks R Us, another sweepstakes cafe.

"I'm so stressed because I don't want to lose my job and go back on welfare," Cooley said. "Finding a job is far, few, and in between in Spring Hill."

Seniors here feel like they are being slighted.

"The ones who can't bowl ... can't golf ... they need something to do," said Teresa Stoll. "We're not children. We should be able to make our own decisions."

Angie Toporek agrees. The 81 year-old was holding a sign that said 'let the seniors have fun!'

"We lost our families. I lost my husband," she said. "We had a lady that lost her son and a husband in a year and a half. If it wouldn't have been for the game room, that would've been it..."

Information from Gary Fineout, of the Associated Press, contributed to this report.

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