Are internet cafes magnets for crime?

JACKSONVILLE, Fla.– Internet cafes are seemingly a bull’s-eye for bad guys.

Local sources began looking into the reason why internet cafes are frequently held up after Wednesday’s chaotic crime spree that started Wednesday afternoon when, according to police, an armed man robbed the Lucky Charms Arcade, an internet cafe on Mayport Road.

It’s not the first time the business has been robbed. People who frequent the internet cafe say it’s an easy target.

“(I come) to get money — like everyone else,” said Ivory Washington, a customer at Lucky Charms Arcade.

Customers say money is the motivator at internet cafes. Customer James Natale estimated how much money he thinks comes through the doors of Lucky Charms Arcade on any given day.

“From my pocket, a lot,” Natale said. “As far as other people, I’m sure a lot, too. I’d say probably a couple thousand, maybe.”

It could be the reason why the Lucky Charms Arcade has been robbed twice in a span of about two months. Police are stilling looking for a man who they say robbed the location in November.

On Nov. 1, according to the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office, the man entered the Lucky Charms Arcade, sat at a gaming table and, while an employee was occupied, he showed a handgun and demanded money. After getting the money, the man ran from the area, police said.

Wednesday’s stickup turned out to be far more serious.

After robbing the internet cafe at gunpoint just after 2 p.m. Wednesday, the suspect then abducted an elderly man to use his SUV as a getaway vehicle and struck two police officers– one on foot and another in his cruiser — before crashing into a concrete pole, according to JSO.

A Lucky Charms Arcade employee told us, “I’ve been asked not to talk to you guys so I have to respect that.” Management could not be reached by phone.

Washington said she sees why internet gaming businesses could be targets for crime.

“People watch as they go by and see exactly what everybody else is spending,” she said.

According to the American Gaming Association, Floridians spend more than $1 billion a year at internet sweepstakes cafes. There are more than 1,000 locations statewide.

Greg DiFranza, a retired Jacksonville sheriff’s officer, weighed in.

“That particular business, that type of business, deals with large sums of money all the time and they are very busy all the time, so you have more of an occasion to have the threat of more money there for the effort, so to speak,” DiFranza said.

News4Jax has covered numerous crimes at local game rooms over recent years. A month ago, a security guard shot and wounded a suspected robber at a 103rd Street game room.

In March, according to police, a security guard at a Beach Boulevard sweepstakes shot and killedtwo robbers. Police arrested a third man.

According to Lucky Charms Arcade patrons, the location has security, but does not have a guard.

“I’m not quite sure why they don’t at this moment,” Washington said.

Neighbors, such as tattoo artist Bo Dillard, agree.

“I don’t know what that business attracts, really,” said Dillard, who works nearby at True Till Death Tattoos and Records. “Maybe I should look into it.”

Local leaders have been debating the legality of gaming centers for years. At times, they’ve shut them down, but recently we found they’ve been opening up all over the area, with a total of 94 internet cafes allowed to operate in the city of Jacksonville.

Interactive map of permitted adult arcades in Jacksonville

Zoom into your neighborhood to find the nearest gaming businesses.

Posted in: Florida internet cafe news

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