JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Internet cafe owners across Florida have their eyes on Tallahassee as legislators consider a new ban on their business. Prompt action was taken by the Florida House on Friday after a nearly $300 million Allied Veterans of the World scandal rocked the state earlier in the week.
A revised bill to ban Internet cafes was introduced Thursday by the Select Committee on Gaming, and members voted 15-1 in favor.
"I would think its chances are very good, given recent events," said Representative Charles McBurney, who says he has supported a move to further define existing gaming laws since his first session in the House. He's currently in his sixth.
Internet cafes operate in a legal gray area under laws that permit sweepstakes and drawings for charity. While proponents argue games are an entertaining way of winning prizes, others call it a cover for illegal gambling.
In 2010, Jacksonville was the first Florida city to somewhat regulate Internet cafes, but they're not regulated in many other cities.
"This makes it clear to all jurisdictions that Internet cafes are what they already are: a banned activity in the state of Florida."
Customers like Janan Driggers don't see a problem, however.
She says she spent time at Allied locations in the past. While she's sick that some of her own money may have unknowingly gone to Allied executives instead of veterans' charities, she still enjoys the pastime that Internet cafes offer, and she doesn't think other businesses should suffer as a result of the Allied investigation.
"We, as adults, should be able to decide for ourselves. The state shouldn't make that decision for us. I mean, let the people make that choice."
McBurney, however, says a clear law is the obvious next step.
"I would anticipate that this legislation will move forward very fast."
If it does pass into law, the managers of The Mint Sweepstakes say they will be forced to lay off 75 employees from five locations across Jacksonville.
Customers like Driggers say that's not fair, considering the House committee passed the bill just days after the investigation was revealed.
"To decide on emotion because you're so mad at another establishment isn't right. They need to stop, step back, and review everything."
In regards to the speed of the bill, McBurney responded, "The sad events that have imminated out of Jacksonville, I think accelerated what was already there in the minds of many legislators."
He says the bill is similar to bills filed in the past, and he believes committee members did have enough time to review the changes.
In regards to job loss, he says, "If it's an illegal activity, and it's been considered an illegal activity, is this something where we want people to have jobs in this type of activity?"
On Monday, the Senate gaming committee will discuss a similar bill. The House bill will now move to the Committee on Regulatory Affairs.