TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -
State lawmakers are moving at break-neck speed to ban Internet cafes in Florida following a gambling investigation that resulted in nearly 60 arrests last week and prompted the resignation of Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll.
Today the Senate Gaming Committee unanimously passed legislation from Sen. John Thrasher that would ban Internet cafes across Florida.
Thrasher believes Internet cafes are operating illegally by exploiting a loophole in state law to operate online slot machines.
The committee's chairman, Sen. Garrett Richter, says the extensive gambling sweep that shut down nearly 50 Internet cafes shows the issue needs immediate attention.
But supporters of the facilities pleaded with senators to consider the economic and social impact of the cafes. They said Internet cafes employ about 13,000 people statewide and patrons enjoy a family-like environment at the businesses.
Some wore T-shirts asking for regulation of cafes, rather than an outright ban.
Sen. Thrasher originally filed a bill to place a moratorium on any new Internet cafes in Florida, but he changed his mind after last week's arrests.
"We cannot wait another year and instead of a moratorium, which is the bill that I originally had introduced to stop further proliferation of what I believed illegal Internet cafes, I think we need an outright ban," he said.
Linda Padsick of an Internet café called Telesweeps of Clearwater scolded lawmakers for saying the cafes take advantage of poor and elderly people.
She denied that's the case and asked lawmakers to pass new regulations instead of shutting down the cafes.
A House committee passed a similar bill last week and the legislation is on a fast track in that chamber. Sen. Thrasher says he expects the Senate version to move forward a little slower.