Bradenton police outline plan to enforce Internet cafe ban

jdeleon@bradenton.comApril 12, 2013 

BRADENTON -- Bradenton police are giving Internet cafe owners 30 days to comply with a new state law aimed at shutting down the businesses.

In a memo Thursday to Mayor Wayne Poston, Police Chief Michael Radzilowski laid out the department's plan for enforcing the new law, which took effect Wednesday after Gov. Rick Scott signed the legislation. Enforcing the ban falls to local authorities.

Attached was a letter that is going out to affected business owners.

"The Bradenton Police Department is bound by State Statue to enforce all laws set forth by the state legislature, and shall commence such action thirty-days following the service of this letter," Radzilowski wrote.

During the 30 days, the chief said, detectives will familiarize themselves with the law and also consult with the State Attorney's Office on enforcement.

After 30 days, detectives will visit any open establishments to determine if they are in violation of the law.

"Wow, it's kind of exciting because it means we have 30 days to operate," said Melinda Sykes, owner of two Internet cafes in Manatee.

The new law, the Prohibition of Electronic Gambling Devices in the State of Florida, was approved just a month after nearly 60 people were arrested in connection with the three-year federal and state racketeering investigation into Allied Veterans of the World, a St. Augustine-based charity organization. The investigation also prompted the resignation of Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll, who did consulting work for the group but has not been accused of wrongdoing.

The law gives law enforcement new definitions of illegal gambling machines. But the swiftness of the law's approval has left many questions about its impact on Internet cafes. The law is also expected to affect adult amusement

arcades that cater to senior citizens, imposing new restrictions on arcade games and banning all electronic casino look-alikes.

Florida has an estimated 1,000 Internet cafes and more than 200 adult arcades, and the new law could put as many as 14,000 people out of work.

Manatee County Sheriff's Office spokesman Dave Bristow said his agency doesn't plan to take immediate action against Internet cafes in its jurisdiction.

"Obviously, we are not going to go out and start raiding these establishments today or tomorrow," Bristow said. "We are going to wait and see what happens in the courts, and then we will plan a course of action."

Sykes did close her businesses at 2 p.m. Wednesday.

"We had no choice but to close our doors because our software company pulled all the software," Sykes said.

On Thursday, American Legion Post 24 in Bradenton, which operates a game arcade at its 75th Street West location, announced it has suspended the use of machines that don't comply with the new law.

"We were advised last night based on the governor having signed the bill that we had to shut down the machines down at midnight," Entertainment Coordinator Marty Leise said.

A short time after issuing the statement, Leise received a phone call from the commander of the post that they could remain open after the sheriff's office announced it would not be shutting anyone down yet.

"Right now we have not been told to shut officially, there are just rumors," Leise said.

In the city of Palmetto, no decision has been made yet on how to proceed.

"We are still dissecting it with our legal department on the best action to take," Palmetto Police Chief Rick Wells said. "We are also consulting with the Manatee County Sheriff's Office."

Palmetto has had a moratorium in place prohibiting Internet cafes since January of 2012, but it does have two internet cafes that were grandfathered in until now.

"We will enforce the bill when it's appropriate," City Attorney Mark Barnebey said.

-- Mary Ellen Klas of the Herald/Times Tallahassee Bureau contributed to this story.

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

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