JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -After the latest law enforcement crackdown on Internet cafes and arrests of people who operate them, News4Jax is asking why some of these businesses are raided while others remain open, and why the city keeps issuing them licenses.
Friday’s crackdown was the fourth since 2013, when 51 Allied Veterans of the World locations around Florida were raided and shut down, leading to a change in state law that outlawed the electronic sweepstakes business as gambling establishments.
Five businesses were closed and one person arrested by the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office Friday, yet other Internet cafes remain open around the city, including two right across the street from Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office substations — one on Norwood Avenue and one on Blanding Boulevard.
An owner of one such business that remains opens agreed to answer some questions, but didn’t want her full name used. She admitted people can lose money on her games of chance, but she compared it to the Florida Lottery.
“We don’t say gamble; we say internal sweepstakes,” Felicia said.
Felicia feels she has a right to be open in spite of state law that doesn’t allow games of chance outside of licensed gambling establishments.
Games at Felicia’s business are on computer, so she balks when you compare it to a slot machine.
“It’s electronic,” Felicia said, but adds, “Well if you want to compare it to that, yeah.”
Another other interesting thing in Felicia’s facility is the current business license from the city of Jacksonville. When asked why the city continues issuing licenses to Internet cafes, Tax Collector Mike Hogan said the city stands by its statement from 2013: “Due to the State legislative action, the city no longer has direct civil regulatory or permitting control. … Accordingly, the Planning Department has refused to grant Certificates of Use to internet cafes.”
Felicia said she didn’t conceal the nature of her business when she got her license.
“Before we get our business license, of course we let you know what it’s for,” Felicia said. “So why would you give us a license for something that’s against the law? Isn’t the law actually contradicting itself?”
Asked about why some Internet cafes are open while others were raided, the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office said: “Other similar locations which may or may not remain open are ongoing investigative matters that we can’t further comment on at this time. The vice unit is looking into licensing and landlord issues related to Internet cafes.”
Felicia said she has not had any contact with law enforcement officers and doesn’t know if her business will be raided someday.
Attorney Rhonda Peoples-Waters said this is more than confusing for business owners and the state needs to develop specific rules and guidelines.
“When you are faced with a criminal prosecution, the burden is beyond a reasonable doubt,” Peoples-Waters said. “So there will have to be some type of establishment by the law enforcement agencies that the persons, the owners and employees knew exactly that they were committing these offenses or should have known.”