MANATEE -- The Manatee County Sheriff's Office has taken the first steps toward the enforcement of a new state law aimed at shutting down Internet and sweepstakes cafes.
In a letter dated April 24 from Sheriff Brad Steube, the new law is broken down to owners, operators, employees and patrons, and warns that those who continue to operate without complying will risk charges being brought against them.
The bill, The Prohibition of Electronic Gaming Devices, was signed into law April 10 by Gov. Rick Scott, clarifying exceptions that business owners had used for years to operate.
"This legislation reaffirms that Internet Cafes and Sweepstakes adult arcades are not exempted by exceptions in the gambling laws for charitable or nonprofit organizations, laws permitting certain game promotions or sweepstakes and/or laws authorizing skill-based games at arcade amusement centers," Steube wrote.
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There are an estimated 1,000 Internet cafes and more than 200 adult arcades in Florida.
Business owners in Manatee County have been awaiting direction from the sheriff's office on how they intend to enforce the law. Many were in fear of being shut down.
The letter was personally delivered to each establishment by a member of the sheriff's office to ensure it was received.
"Continued unlawful operation or patronage of Internet Cafes and Sweepstakes adult arcades will subject individuals (owners, employees and patrons) to criminal prosecution," it said.
Rumors have begun to circulate that software companies are working on retooling the machines to comply with the law.
"I have been told that
there is something that can be done to the machines," Steube said. "Other than that I don't know."
The only other option for business owners, that some have begun to execute, is fighting the law in court.
"Of course they can always get an injunction stopping law enforcement from taking the machines until the court decides if they are legal or not," Steube said. "It's all up in the air right now."
Jessica De Leon, law enforcement reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7049. You can follow her on Twitter @JDeLeon1012.