TALLAHASSEE, FL -- Peter Nehr is not only a Florida state representative, he is also the owner and operator of Fun City Sweepstakes (North Port, FL). His Internet café is equipped with phone card vending machines that offer patrons a chance to enter Internet sweepstakes and win cash prizes.
The Republican from Tarpon Springs says his venue is "a legitimate business that has been vetted and found to be completely legal in the state." He pointed to a recent plea-bargain agreement whereby another sweeps game operator escaped illegal gambling charges as proof that sweepstakes videogames are legal in Florida. | SEE VT COVERAGE
Pinellas County Sheriff Jim Coats disagrees. He says the videogames are illegal gambling devices. The resulting controversy has caught the eye of numerous news outlets in the Sunshine State. | SEE STORY
According to some Florida newspapers, a small Internet café can make more than $20,000 a week by operating electronic sweepstakes games. Observers estimate that there are 300 to 1,000 of these cafés in the state. They say current state laws are not clear on the status of sweepstakes games.
Rep. Scott Plakon (R-Longwood) has introduced a bill -- HB 217 -- that would ban simulated gambling for promotional purposes, which sweepstakes videogames do.
State Sen. Mike Fasano (R-New Port Richey) is sponsoring a competing bill to legalize the videogames.
Neither bill is expected to pass this year.
Some Florida jurisdictions, such as Seminole County, have already banned machines with simulated gambling, but are seeing their regulations challenged on constitutional grounds. Other counties are considering similar anti-sweepstakes games ordinances.