Columbia County issues temporary moratorium on internet cafes

COLUMBIA COUNTY, Fla. — Neighbors in Columbia County said internet cafes are crowding their community and causing safety concerns.

On Thursday, the Columbia County Board of County Commissioners approved a temporary 180-day moratorium to stop new ones from opening.

The Columbia County Sheriff’s Office said there are currently 28 internet cafes in its jurisdiction, and five establishments opened this year alone.

During Thursday night’s meeting, leaders acknowledged that when internet cafes closed down in Duval and Nassau counties, the businesses started to move to surrounding areas, such as Columbia County.

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Kalen Biehl said he lives near two internet cafes in Columbia County.

“They are popping up and spreading like a parasite around town,” Biehl said.

He said he believes the establishments are magnets for crime.

“I just want to know how many more robberies and shootings that it’s going to take for them to get the memo,” Biehl said.

At Thursday night’s meeting, Sheriff Mark Hunter said between 2018 and now, the agency has received 1,118 calls for service to these facilities.

In January of this year, investigators said a man was kicked out of the Lake City “Q-Time 777” casino, came back with a gun, and opened fire. He was shot and killed by the security guard.

Several employees of internet cafes in Columbia County spoke out at the meeting and said not all establishments are crime hot spots. They said many of their patrons are elderly people who are looking for entertainment.

Columbia County commissioners also said they plan to draft an ordinance that would ban the operation of simulated gambling devices.

A public hearing on that is set for April 15.

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