JACKSONVILLE, Fla -- Soon, Florida's Internet cafes will become illegal. State lawmakers have voted to ban the gaming operations. Governor Rick Scott has until April 12th to sign the legislation, but what happens next for internet cafe owners and players?
Elia Hawara is the owner of Royal Times Sweepstakes in Regency. For the last few weeks he's been dealing with many questions.
"What are we going to do, where are we going to go , you saw the customers we have here, nice old people that spend $10 here $20 here, sit down, have fun, drink some coffee, talk to each other, social life," said Hawara.
The bigger question for customers is, what happens to the money on their prepaid cards?
At Royal Times Sweepstakes, customers enter sweepstakes with a phone card. If they put $10 on a card, they can play up to one-thousand entries, but the card is still a valid phone card outside of the café.
"You don't lose anything when you use the entries, you still have your $10 worth of money, phone card, it's 20 minutes per dollar when you buy, you still have 200 minutes to use as a phone," said Hawara.
That's not the case for all cafés. Some use phone cards, some use internet cards, and others like some of the Allied Veterans of the World cafés use white plastic cards with a bar code that keeps track of money or points.
The Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services said they have no authority over these types of sweepstake cafés and do not know what happens to the cards.
The Better Business Bureau advises people in those situations to cash out before you can't.
"It's essentially the same situation you have if you had bought a gift certificate from a store that goes out of business three months after you bought it and you hadn't cashed it in, you're just, you're money is gone, it's the same thing that most likely will happen here," said Tom Stephens, President of the Better Business Bureau of Northeast Florida.
A Jacksonville city ordinance on Electronic Gaming requires each internet café in the city to take out a $50,000 bond with the city in the event that a café closes unexpectedly, a customer can still get their money, however, that may not apply to this situation where a state-wide ban would shut down all cafés.
The office of the Staff Director of the Senate Gaming Committee said redeeming funds on a prepaid card would depend on the return policy for a particular internet café and what the terms were when they purchased it.
First Coast News