By Jim Saunders
TALLHASSEE - The Florida House is poised to approve a plan to shut down so-called “Internet cafe” games that critics compare to slot machines, but two key senators said Wednesday that such a ban would die in the Senate.
“I don’t think the House’s ban is going to get anywhere after it leaves the House, that’s for sure,’’ said Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, a Miami Republican who is sponsoring an alternative proposal to regulate the sweepstakes centers.
The Senate Regulated Industries Committee overwhelmingly approved Diaz de la Portilla’s regulatory approach (SB 380) in January, while refusing to support a ban. Meanwhile, House sponsor Rep. Scott Plakon, R-Longwood, has repeatedly said he will not support the regulation idea, describing it as “amnesty.”
“These are the functional equivalent of slot machines,’’ Plakon said.
A vote on the overall bill likely will come Thursday.
An estimated 1,000 centers have opened in Florida during the past several years, with many popping up in strip shopping centers. While they typically sell such things as Internet time or phone cards, they profit from computerized sweepstakes-style games that the industry says are allowed under state law.
Opponents contend the games are a form of illegal gambling and that the centers particularly target low-income people. Plakon said state law needs changes to make clear that the games are prohibited.
Diaz de la Portilla has proposed a series of regulations for the industry, such as requiring certification that games meet legal standards, imposing a $100 fee on each terminal and restricting advertising outside cafes.
He and other regulation supporters argue, in part, that Plakon’s bill would close the centers and put thousands of people out of work — which Diaz de la Portilla described as “total craziness.’’
Plakon said Wednesday the businesses could stay open if they sell other goods or services, such as phone cards and Internet time. But he said he has seen people losing hundreds or thousands of dollars on the games.
“These are right in our neighborhoods,’’ Plakon said, “right next door to the Publix and the dry cleaner.”