JACKSONVILLE, Fla. --The Florida Senate Gaming Committee is set to review a proposal that would ban Internet cafes across the state. Owners of these establishments on the First Coast are worried lawmakers are just reacting to arrests in a statewide racketeering scandal.
"We don't think that's fair and we don't think that's justice and give us a chance, let us fight it. Let's find out what we can do to fix the problem instead of just like shut them down," said Elia Hawara, owner of Royal Times Sweepstakes in Regency.
A proposal to ban all Florida Internet cafes swept through the Florida House Select Gaming Committee with a 15-to-1 vote Friday, now the Senate Gaming Committee is set to review Senate Bill 1030 which also proposes to prohibit the establishments. These bills arecausing worries among Internet café owners and employees.
"I have not really for the last two days. I have not had any sleep, not night not day, just thinking what's going on why is this happening," said Hawara.
For over five years, Elia Hawara says he's operated a legit Internet café in Jacksonville.
"We show everything, we don't have anything to hide, good relations with the customers, as you can tell clean operation," said Hawara.
Under Florida Statute 849.094, electronic game promotions in connection to sale of products or servicesare allowed and are not considered gambling. But advocates for the bill say the sweepstakes machines resemble slot machines and computer online gambling.
Internet café owners pay annual fees, fees per machines along with permits from the county. They have to abide by county regulations and zoning and allsweepstakesmachines have to be certified by the state.
After the Allied Veterans of the World Internet cafes alleged illegal gambling and racketeering charges, these Internet cafes are at risk of being shut down altogether.
"What Allied did has nothing to do with a legit Internet café that's trying to make business and it also bring job opportunities for people that are looking for work," said Ramon Acevedo, an employee of Winners Sweepstakes.
Acevedo just started working at Winners Sweepstakes last year and says he already had another job, but got this part time job to help with bills. There are over 50 listed Internet cafes on the First Coast and on average they each may have up to ten employees. That would mean hundreds without jobs just in Northeast Florida.
The Florida Senate Gaming Committee will review the bill at 10 a.m. Monday.