Marianna, FL -- July 27, 2011 --
Internet cafes have opened up all across Florida in recent years, including in the Panhandle, and they've been a heated issue from the beginning.
Two weeks ago, several law enforcement agencies shut down four of the businesses in Jackson County. And earlier this week, the Jackson County Grand Jury labeled them as a "disgrace."
"They (grand jury) had a chance to hear from investigators, but more importantly they had a chance to see video of what was going on. They saw it, they knew what it was, and they called it what it was," said State Attorney Glenn Hess.
Wednesday afternoon, Marianna City Commissioners also got in on the discussion. State Attorney Glenn Hess urged them to adopt an ordinance that would ban Internet cafes in the city.
But a lawyer representing a phone card sweepstakes company in Florida also spoke to commissioners. He claimed his business, called "Phone Sweeps" is completely legal under current statute, but said the majority of Internet casinos are, in fact, fronts for illegal gambling.
"There are a number of them that have real issues, have some real problems. We have been trying to get the legislature to regulate the game-promotion statute, to regulate Internet cafes," said "Phone Sweeps" attorney Bill Pfeiffer.
After hearing both sides, commissioners decided voted three to one not to vote on the proposed ordinance. They said it's a statewide issue that should be up to the Florida legislation.
"The electronic casinos, the way they're operating, it's just a license to steal. They need to be regulated. They need to be regulated just like dog tracks need to be regulated," said State Attorney Hess.
Florida lawmakers are expected to discuss the legality of Internet cafes during next spring's legislative session.