Governor expected to sign bill to ban Internet sweepstakes cafes - WFLA News Channel 8

Governor expected to sign bill to ban Internet sweepstakes cafes

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Customers at Florida's Internet sweepstakes cafes may be taking their final spins on their favorite games.

A bill passed by lawmakers in Tallahassee this week bans the cafes, which offer games that look like slot machines and offer customers the chance to win cash prizes. Governor Rick Scott plans to sign the bill next week, a spokesman told News Channel 8.

Once the new law goes into effect, the cafes will become illegal.

"The new bill is pretty strict on the regulation of these stores," said Robert Gaskill, an executive with PM Consulting, which sets up and manages five cafes in Florida, including ones in Clearwater and Tampa. "There's not much else we can do. I mean, it will shut them down."

Gaskill said the sites his company manages will shut down "promptly" when the bill becomes law.

"A lot of our employees are going to be out of jobs, this is going to have a definite effect on a lot of people's employment," he said.

Gaskill said the cafes make about $3,000 profit per week, and employ five to 10 people per site.

While the Clearwater site is purely an Internet café, one of Tampa's most high-profile sweepstakes businesses may have other options to operate without the games.

Bit Bar in downtown Tampa is a bar that also offers Internet service and sweepstakes games on a bank of computers. Owner Richard Ratcliff said he's still in the process of analyzing the situation and figuring out what Bit Bar's options may be for the future.

The cafes have been under scrutiny by local governments for a while, but scrutiny increased recently after authorities shut down dozens of sites run by Allied Veterans of the World, a group that claimed to give proceeds from the cafes to charity. Authorities say the group only donated a small amount.

That issue led to the resignation of former Lt. Governor Jennifer Carroll, who previously did work for the group through her PR company. She was not accused of wrongdoing.

"Since this entire scandal with the Allied Veterans association it's cast the entire industry in a bad light for us and turned up a lot of the pressure," Gaskill said. "We did not expect this to happen whatsoever."

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