PALMETTO – "Sweepstakes cafés" or "internet casinos" are back in the spotlight after the Allied Veterans scandal, which led to the resignation of Florida Lieutenant Governor Jennifer Carroll last week. At Monday night's meeting, Palmetto City Commissioners voted to extend their moratorium on new operations for another year, in anticipation that the issue would be resolved by the state legislature in this session. Currently, there are two such businesses within city limits.
The ban would only prevent new businesses in the industry from opening. One of the two current operations holds a permit that expires later this year. Commissioner Brian Williams asked if that business could be addressed separately at that time, and have their permit extended for six months in order for it to coincide with the moratorium's expiration, which city attorney Mark Barnebey confirmed could be done, were such operations not banned by the state before then.
Initially, legislators said they didn't expect to get to the issue until the 2014 session. However, in light of last week's scandal, it is moving much more quickly. A House committee and a Senate panel have already voted to ban the businesses, which are almost universally seen as illegal in principal, while operating under a gray loophole, which lawmakers have long said could be quickly be closed. Interest groups from Disney and the Chamber of Commerce to legal gaming operations in the state have also lobbied for their demise.
The industry, however, has also lavished millions of dollars on Florida lawmakers, helping to allow them to float in limbo, despite pleas for help from law enforcement agencies all over the state who say the poorly-secured and cash-heavy businesses are magnets for crime. Allied Veterans, who have been the target of 57 arrests in an ongoing investigation, have alone spent $2.5 million on lobbysists and campaign contributions in Florida.
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