Throughout the state of Florida, a very unique legal battle has begun- one that could have major implications on gambling laws, Internet laws, and more. The cause of this battle? Internet cafes. But these aren’t your average “grab a cup of coffee and enjoy reading the news over complimentary Wi-Fi Internet cafes”. Instead, the war is being waged over an entirely new breed of Internet café- one known as the Internet sweepstakes café. Here, patrons come in and purchase prepaid phone cards that they use to access online games that resemble slot machines. Players can win anything from more Internet time to points that give them sweepstakes entries. These entries can, in turn, pay big money.
While it isn’t exactly a casino, it isn’t exactly a straightforward Internet café, either. These prepaid cards and the games associated with them have a pre-determined outcome, much like a traditional scratch ticket from a state lottery. But unlike the lottery, there is no regulating commission and the cafes certainly haven’t been deemed allowable by state or local laws. There is a surprising tangle of information at play here, and determining whether or not the operations constitute gambling is proving harder than many originally suspected.
In Florida, one of the many states where these cafes are starting to pop up, there are some counties that have cracked down on these businesses and forced them to cease operations even while neighboring counties are allowing them to remain open. The reasoning? The laws are simply not clear on what constitutes gambling, which means that for now law enforcement agents must use their own discretion. The problem is that many believe that liberal interpretations of the law infringe upon civil liberties.
It is an interesting situation to say the least, and one that is likely to be played out in a very public manner in the months to come. In order for any real basis to be made that can be relied upon and used as grounds, however, it is going to be up to the state to create and pass a statute that explicitly states the legal status of these cafes or that alters the definition of gambling. On the plus side, when one state finally makes such a ruling, it will likely set a precedent that will spread quickly, allowing all of the states currently in turmoil over how to handle these cafes to get a better idea of what they can do to either stop or regulate them.