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Tampa bans new Internet sweepstakes cafes

TAMPA — The City Council closed the door Thursday to any new cafes with sweepstakes computers that mimic casino-style slot machines.

Not banned are 13 Internet sweepstakes cafes that already do business in Tampa. But if the council reaffirms its initial vote on March 21, they will face these new rules:

• No new sweepstakes machines.

• No moves to a new location.

• No minors.

• No alcohol, except for one cafe that already has a city permit to serve drinks.

• No signs in the window giving the impression that the cafes offer gambling.

"The ones in my neighborhood, you go by and it looks like almost like it's based on a Florida Lottery card," said Council member Lisa Montelione, who suggested not allowing references to Las Vegas-style games or big dollar signs in window displays.

Tampa's ban and rules are similar to existing laws in Hillsborough and Seminole counties, as well as Jacksonville, none of which have been challenged successfully in court.

"I believe that this ordinance strikes the best balance possible to assure that we could legally defend it as it relates to new businesses and legally defend it as it relates to the existing businesses," senior assistant city attorney Julia Mandell said.

The council approved the ordinance after a public hearing at which no one from the sweepstakes industry spoke. Mandell said the city administration has not heard from anyone in the business about the new rules.

Violations of the ordinance could be prosecuted as misdemeanors punishable by up to a $500 fine and 60 days in jail. The city also could seek to impose code enforcement fines or go to court for an injunction to shut down a business using illegal sweepstakes machines.

The city's ban does not cover a select group of businesses and other operations already regulated by state or federal law: the Seminole Hard Rock Casino, Tampa Bay Downs, the Tampa Greyhound Track, plus properly authorized bingo games and arcades, including truck stop arcades.

Tampa bans new Internet sweepstakes cafes 03/07/13 [Last modified: Thursday, March 7, 2013 8:37pm]
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