MANATEE -- Although Internet cafes have been proliferating in the area, the Manatee County Commission Tuesday informally agreed to wait on deciding whether to regulate them or not.
Some of the commissioners asked whether the cafes, which are popular with senior citizens, allow a form of gambling that the county should oversee.
But by the end of the work session, they seemed content to remain with the status quo.
"It's a free country, and they should be allowed to go in there if they want to," said Commissioner Carol Whitmore, noting that the cafes serve only adults.
Manatee County has more than 26 Internet cafes, according to Sgt. Jason Powell, of the Manatee County Sheriff's Office.
They cannot be classified as gambling establishments, he said, because customers purchase Internet time and then are provided with a game card coded with pre-determined winnings that can be revealed on a computer.
In the audience sat Melinda Sykes, owner of China's Internet Cafe, 5252 E. S.R. 64. She had come to speak to the commission, but did not get the chance because the session ended without any time for public comment.
She couldn't understand why the commission would consider regulating businesses like hers in the first place.
"Everybody has a form
of spendable income, a lot of our older people, this is what they do," she explained earlier to The Herald. "They don't want to go out to eat, they don't want to go golfing, they don't want to go to the movies."
"I don't think it's right they're threatening to take this away."
Her cafe serves food, but no alcohol, and operates from 9 a.m. to 9 or 10 p.m., she said.
State legislators are expected to review the matter in 2014, after a two-year study is completed, officials said.
State Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, is a member of the Florida Senate committee charged with the study. Florida has a lottery, pari-mutuels, casinos, and proliferating numbers of Internet cafes, he noted.
"We're looking at all the gaming in the State of Florida to see where we should go as a state," he said.
Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7031. Follow her on Twitter @sarawrites.com