Regulating internet cafes
After several weeks of crafting a final draft for a proposed law regulating internet cafes in Belleview, the City Commission voted Tuesday to move the proposal forward.
Currently, the cafes operate with little regulation with some open 24 hours and serving alcohol. With the wide-open atmosphere, 11 such cafes sprung up in the small city and at least one other is in the works.
The proposed law would clamp down on how the facilities can operate. It would limit the hours of operations from 8 a.m. to 2 a.m.; ban alcohol sales; restrict cafes near churches, schools and daycare centers; ban minors on the property; require security cameras inside and out; and limit the number of machines per facility, based on the number of available parking spots.
Police and city officials complained that the cafes were causing problems, including an increase in reports of robberies, alcohol-related disturbances, nuisance complaints and parking hassles.
The commission voted 4-1 to move the proposed law forward. Commissioner Robert “Bo” Smith voted against the measure, not because he disagreed with the restrictions, but because they did not go far enough.
Smith said he is not in favor of allowing current establishments a “grandfather” provision for some of the rules. While the hours of operation and alcohol ban would apply to all the cafes, other restrictions, such as the proximity to churches and schools, and parking space requirements, would not.
“I just feel everybody should have to play on the same level,” Smith said after the meeting.
The ordinance will come up for a final public hearing and vote during the next commission meeting, set for Oct. 16.
Internet cafes offer games that tiptoe around the legal definition of gambling, which is illegal in Florida except in limited instances. By using certain technology, operators claim their games are games of skill, rather than chance, which are illegal. While they stay open, their legality is in question. In June, five internet cafes in Marion County got raided and shut down, accused of illegal gambling. Those cases are pending.