NORTH PORT, FL. - Around 1,000 Internet cafes closed earlier this year after lawmakers passed a bill banning them. They say the gaming parlors were unregulated, but now similar facilities are coming back.
One business in North Port called Spin Depot is re-opening its doors, saying they are an arcade and not an Internet cafe.
The owners say that even while they're not an Internet café, they have new regulations, and lawmakers and law enforcement are paying close attention.
Popular in the area and around the state gaming locations often times called Internet Cafe's like one in Nokomis have had their doors shut.
"They seem to prey on the elderly. We want to make sure they are following the law," says State Representative Doug Holder.
Holder says not all were bad, but abuse was running rampant. Unlike large casinos, the small facilities often found in strip malls were unregulated. Holder says sometimes paying out as low as 5% of what they were taking in. "I think it is a casino in a box. It’s literally a computerized casino. The problem with it being unregulated is that you have the ability to manipulate the chances."
Recently, a similar facility in North Port called Spin Depot reopened. "They are open. What that means we don't know yet. We will be looking into it," says North Port Police Captain Anthony Sirianni.
One of the owners of Spin Depot told our coverage partners with the North Port Sun that they are not an Internet café, but an arcade. While not banned, arcades now have new regulations. All games must be activated with a coin instead of member cards. All must also be considered games of skill. No more gift cards or certificates. Instead, an approved national distributor can exchange points for prizes. North Port Police Captain Anthony Sirianni says they've met with owners. Spin Depot wanted the department to give their seal of approval. That hasn't happened. "We are law enforcement officers. We enforce the law. It was not our duty to conduct their due diligence to see if they are in compliance or not. We don't give legal advice."
Holder says they had to initially shut all down in order to create a baseline. Saying regulation this year could be tightened in some areas and possibly loosened in others. "Next year in the legislature, we are going to be really focused on gaming issues as a whole," says Holder.
The law calls for local law enforcement to regulate the arcades. Something they say they'll be looking at closely. "We will deal with it. We will enforce the law as we need to," says Captain Sirianni.
Now, we wanted to see how it worked for ourselves. We were told by people at the Spin Depot that we needed to contact their attorney. So far, we have not heard back.