Simulated gambling at internet cafes now illegal in Jacksonville; what happens next?

Internet cafes to be shut down

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Around the same time Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry signed a bill into law making simulated gambling devices illegal immediately, dozens of employees and supporters of internet cafes began a demonstrative and vocal protest in San Marco on Friday morning.

Internet cafes, also known as adult arcades, have long been scrutinized by city leaders as magnets for violent crimes. Employees say the city’s decision to make simulated gambling devices at cafes in the city illegal has resulted in the loss of thousands of jobs at hundreds of internet cafes around the city.

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What happens next?
Code enforcers will begin making their rounds on Tuesday to ensure internet cafes have gotten rid of the devices. Re-inspections will likely begin on Wednesday.

When re-inspection occurs, if the businesses have not come into compliance by getting rid of the devices, owners and operators could face building condemnation or arrest.

How did an immediate shutdown happen? 
The city passed a bill in May 2019 making simulated gambling devices illegal and began shutting down internet cafes operating without permits -- Certificates of Use, or COUs, -- in June.

The bill passed in May took effect in August 2019 and gave cafes with permits until February 2020 to get rid of the illegal gambling devices.

But recent violent incidents that occurred at cafes, including one in which a security guard was shot and killed at a Paxon café in August, caused many City Council members to outlaw simulated gambling devices sooner than cafes initially anticipated.

District 5 Councilwoman LeAnna Cumber presented legislation on Sept. 10 to make simulated gambling devices illegal in the city as soon as possible.

The City Council passed Cumber's bill on October 8 with a vote of 10-9, and Curry signed the bill into law on October 11.

Internet cafe employees 
Protesters said thousands of employees are now jobless. Many of them fear the city acted hastily in passing its legislation and eliminating their jobs prior to the holidays.

“No light bill, no groceries -- forget about the holidays! How is it fair to do this to the citizens of Jacksonville? If they can do this to a game room, what else can they do it to?” said local internet cafe employee Michelle Singletary.

The city said it’s working to coordinate a job fair for employees who now find themselves out of work.