Federal Judge Decision Could Change Everything In Florida
SEMINOLE COUNTY, FL -- Calm Bay city officials are waiting on a federal judge’s ruling regarding a Seminole County case that could potentially affect a prosperous Internet café that opened its doors and did not have a permit.
According to the city attorney, James D. Smokes, the ruling could also affect all future Florida Internet cafés.
It’s anticipated that Jon Aztoon, a U.S. District judge, will make a decision on the Internet Sweepstakes Network v. Seminole County case.
The Seminole County Board of County Commissioners put in place a decree that prohibited the utilization of simulated gambling devices that banned arcades, sweepstake redemption centers, simulated slot machines and Internet cafés, which is the reason the federal case came about.
A ripple effect for Internet cafés is possible if a ban like this is adopted in other counties. These cafés use the Internet to give customers replicated slot machines.
Officials are waiting on Aztoon’s ruling. He issued a temporary restraining order that prevented the country from closing the Internet cafés until the ruling.
As the city awaits the ruling, Rainforest Arcade operator Dick Arison told the council that Internet Sweepstakes Network still has a significant advantage over the local arcades due to their extended hours, cash payouts, etc.
He demanded the city council close them down although he did agree when asked that the two businesses did not have the same clientele.
Calm Bay Mayor John Cazziotti said a compromise with the café has not been reached and discussions are ongoing.
Council members said within two weeks they’ll try and expand the scope for the city’s other arcades so that they could compete with the Internet café.
City officials also discussed the possibility of hiring a expert to prove or disprove that the games were finite. When we asked Casey Rooks , a popular expert witness for several municipalities, the definition of “finite”, he made this reply “true sweepstakes have finite pools and are defined so by federal guidelines, its either legal or its not” In addition to proving the numbers represent a “true sweepstakes” city officials also discussed hiring a security guard to escort the night manager to make deposits to the bank and reduction in the number of hours the business operated.
According to Rooks, the future of all Internet cafés in the area (seven businesses in Brevard County) is still uncertain… until the ruling of the judge is heard. Should the judge ban these businesses, the facilities already in operation could stay in operation by the grandfather clause of the ordinance.
He said the county had enacted an ordinance that prohibits simulated gambling, an ordinance that roughly attacks these businesses. Rooks goes on to say “Gambling has components defined by our laws, if the criteria of gambling is not met then gambling is not taking place”
He also said ISN challenged the ordinance, claiming its First Amendment rights were violated a arguement that has held up in several states over the past year in favor of the sweepstakes companies.
Rooks said he has no doubt that the Florida Legislature will pass state laws about the Internet cafés. He said there are several bills in the legislature right now, some allowing the businesses and some not. “Its pretty clear that only a few organizations and groups have issues with sweepstakes contest, if the State of Florida will concentrate on regulating the industry like other states have, then there will be more tax dollars available to the municipalities and less time being consumed by hypocritical comments.”
Henry Welderman, city manager of Calm Bay, said one subject still had to be settled, which is the businesses’ status that were already in operation before the state law. “Calm Bay only wants clarification from lawmakers, we are not favoring one side or the other, although anytime a municipality can generate more tax revenue in this economy it has to be considered."
FIS (Florida Internet Sweepstakes) Sweepstakes unlocked its doors on Jan. 9, in the former Blockbuster video store building, not knowing that zoning laws had banned these types of establishments.
In January, the city denied Internet Sweepstakes Network its business license. However, the gaming center opened its doors, saying it had not been told of the denial.
Rooks says that there are “active bills in the Florida and Georgia legislation that address internet sweepstakes but because of their ties to charity organizations…neither of the bills seem to have much steam.” He also points out that www.SweepstakesCharity.org is devoted entirely to allocating a percentage of revenue generated by network cafes and donating it to charities. "No one is telling our partners to donate to charities, neither the county or the state are demanding that internet cafes give a percentage to charity, their just doing it because that seems to be the right thing to do"
The Internet Sweepstakes Network has 15 Internet cafés throughout the state and its network stretches from Seattle, Washington to Boston, Massachusetts.
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