City officials, Manatee business owners face Internet cafe uncertainty

jdeleon@bradenton.comApril 10, 2013 

Officials are sailing into uncharted territory while business owners are scrambling as they all await a decision from the governor's office regarding Internet and sweepstakes cafes.

The state Legislature sent Gov. Rick Scott a bill last week that would make Internet and sweepstakes cafes illegal. Bradenton and Palmetto city officials are unsure how they will handle the fallout from the bill, if passed, and. affected business owners fear being shut down.

"We have never had to deal with something like this before," Bradenton City Clerk Carl Callahan said.

The city has no protocol to shut the businesses down, and officials jokingly predict a Prohibition-type situation.

"We will have to work with our PD and code enforcement, and more than likely the county, too," Callahan said.

Palmetto officials say the police department will take the lead.

"At this point it is an issue of whether they can legally operate, and that would be something for the police department," Palmetto City Attorney Mark Barnebey said.

Palmetto now has two Internet and sweepstakes cafes operating under temporary conditional use permits. The city passed a moratorium in January 2012 prohibiting additional Internet cafes from opening while allowing the two to stay operational.

Now the fate of both cafes dangles in the air.

"It would appear that they would have some issues, but I don't have the specifics on their operations," Barnebey said.

Barnebey said Palmetto has not officially begun to look into the prospective bill and are waiting to see what comes out of the state's decision.

One Bradenton businesswoman is also watching and waiting.

"It's real concerning," said Melinda Sikes, owner of the amusement parlor China Internet Café. "I'm just laying low for now."

Sikes said she will comply with whatever comes from the governor's office.

"If he signs, we are closing down, because at that point it's illegal," Sikes said.

She hopes there is enough opposition to challenge the ban. Her customers are upset at the prospect of her shutting down, she said.

"They are all concerned. They all say don't eliminate -- regulate," Sikes said.

Sikes said the state is going too far.

"If it's OK for the Indians and it's OK for the lottery, then they should regulate not eliminate," Sikes said.

Jessica De Leon, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7049. You can follow her on Twitter@JDeLeon1012.

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