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House keeps Internet Cafe ban alive

The House Economic Affairs Committee voted Wednesday to outlaw the so-called Internet Cafes that operate video slot machines in strip malls across the state, ignoring claims that it will lead to the loss of 13,000 jobs and set up a conflict with the Senate.

The bill by Rep. Scott Plakon, R-Longwood, has the support of Attorney General Pam Bondi and the other Cabinet officers. It would close the loophole in state law that now allows the slot machine look alikes to operate in more than 1,000 locations under a loophole in the state's sweepstakes law.

"This resets the button back,'' Plakon said. "We have three choices: ban, regulate, or look the other way."

Because of the widespread opposition to gambling in the Florida House, Plakon said the only practical political option was to ban. But he House position is in direct conflict with the approach taken by the Senate where the Senate Regulated Industries Committee last week voted to regulate the Internet Cafes and rejected an attempt to ban them.

Rep. Evan Jenne, R-Dania Beach, joined with other Democrats on the committee to oppose the bill, saying it will put an estimated 13,000 people out of work, hurt veterans organizations and senior centers.

"I'm certainly not going to take a passtime away from an 85-year-old woman,'' he said.

Kent Perez, lobbyist for Bondi's office, said existing state law clearly outlaws these operations and the bill merely clarifies that. "If the Legislature were to consider regulating, they should acknowledge what it is: gambling activity," he said.

Veterans groups opposed the ban, claiming it would interfere with their efforts to run the games to raise money for their charitable operations. But Plakon disagreed that his bill would interfere with their "skill-stop" machines and said he was surprised by their sudden opposition.

He quoted an industry statement that it intentionally targeted the poor and elderly because they alledgedly "were bad at math,'' and he read an e-mail from a Jacksonville woman who had lost her savings and become addicted to the machines.