PINELLAS COUNTY, FL -- Sheriff Jim Coats said his department will issue a "cease and desist" letter to all four sweepstakes café owners within his jurisdiction -- including one owned by state Rep. Peter Nehr in Palm Harbor, FL.
The controversial locations offer Internet-based sweepstakes games that award cash prizes to winners.
For the third time in two years, Coats said he will order sweepstakes videogame operators to shut their terminals down within 30 days or face possible prosecution.
Earlier, six other sweepstakes game operators in the county were charged with operating gambling violations in recent years, said the Tampa Times. All six paid fines and lost their equipment after either pleading guilty or no-contest, or undergoing pretrial interventions, the paper said.
Nehr and other operators around the state claim sweeps games are legal promotions, much like sweepstakes offered by fast food restaurants, based on certain exceptions in state gambling laws.
Nehr also stressed the fact that -- technically, at least -- no electronic sweepstakes game operator in the Sunshine State has yet been successfully prosecuted and found guilty of illegal gambling. | SEE STORY
According to the Tampa Times, Coats said his legal authority to shut down the cafés is based on his reading of Florida Statute 849.094, which regulates "game promotions" conducted "in connection with the sale of consumer products or services and in which the elements of chance and prize are present."
At the same time, Coats admitted the law needs clarification. Two competing bills are before the Florida Legislature; one proposes a ban of sweepstakes video gaming, while the other would explicitly declare them legal.
Florida's statewide sweepstakes videogame market comprises more than 1,000 machines that generate $1 billion a year in revenues, according to an estimate recently published in The New York Times.