Suncoast residents react to proposed 'internet cafe' ban

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SARASOTA - The luck of local gamblers could soon run out, as state lawmakers prepare to vote on banning so-called "internet cafes." Leaders say the cafes provide a gambling loophole in the state, but those who enjoy the gaming centers say this is a case of politicians trying to protect themselves.

This legislation has been talked about for some time now, but after Lt. Governor Jennifer Carroll resigned last week when she was connected to an investigation into a chain of internet cafes that she once worked with, some are questioning whether these new laws are meant to protect the people or the politicians.

A visit to one of these cafes makes it clear that it isn't quite Atlantic City, and it certainly isn't Las Vegas. But there's one thing local gamblers say it definitely is. "Yeah, it’s a lot of fun," says patron Juliette Goldberg.

Internet cafes have popped up all over the state. But their luck could soon run out.

"But I do enjoy it…I would hate to really see it go," says patron Mary Lynn McDavid-Yohn.

State lawmakers in both the House and Senate are considering bills that would ban the establishments. They argue the internet cafes exist because of a loophole in the state's gaming laws.

Those who go there to play say the cafes are much more than just online casinos.

"We're retired people. We come in here, we have a nice social life, we enjoy being with people and it occupies our day," says Francine Falkowitz.

"It’s a social thing. Plus, I like the action of playing the games," says Goldberg.

Following the resignation last week of Lt. Governor Carroll, revelations surfaced that a major operator of the cafes, Allied Veterans, which is under investigation, had given lobbying money to many state lawmakers.

Some say this new legislation is more about protecting the politicians than the people. “I think it's disgusting because of the people in the government who I feel are corrupt, and have taken campaign money and now they're all running scared," says Falkowitz. "If it passes, what am I going to do? I’m just saying I'll go to the movies, whatever. But this is a big enjoyment to us, we have fun doing this."

The Senate passed its bill in committee Monday. It’s expected to be voted on by the full Senate later this week. The House is expected to vote on its version of the bill soon.