Thrasher: Internet Cafes Need 'Timeout'; State Senator Suggests a Hold on Openings until Study Is Completed

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Byline: Matt Dixon

TALLAHASSEE | State Sen. John Thrasher said Monday he intends to file legislation that would place a one-year hold on new "Internet cafes" opening.

The St. Augustine Republican's comments came during a hearing of the Senate Gaming Committee, which had planned on examining Florida's gaming industry this year but not pass a legislation until next year.

"I thought we should take a timeout from [them] until the study is complete," said Thrasher, who is a member of the committee, of the sweepstakes centers.

He is not sure how long the moratorium would last but anticipates it extending beyond the 2014 legislative session, which ends that May.

The machines offer Internet time or phone cards, but operators also profit from sweepstake-style games that resemble slot machines. Proponents say they are allowed under the state's sweepstakes statutes; opponents charge that it's a form of illegal gambling. In Northeast Florida, they're regulated in Duval, Clay and St. Johns counties.

This isn't Thrasher's first salvo against the centers.

Last year, a Senate committee passed legislation regulating the centers, instead of tackling a bill that would have banned them. After a heated exchange with a Jacksonville attorney representing a company that provides the centers with their software, Thrasher was the only member to oppose the bill. It passed the committee on an 8-1 vote but later died in committee.

That year, the House crafted legislation banning the centers, an approach Gov. Rick Scott favored. It also did not pass the full Legislature.

Thrasher said he wants "to start a conversation" about a sweepstakes center moratorium this year but won't waste too much political capital on the bill. …

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