PALM BAY, FL -- A former operator of an Internet sweepstakes videogame café pleaded no contest on April 4 to a misdemeanor charge of improper advertising.
Doreen Marceau, 67, will also pay $1,000 toward investigation costs as part of a plea bargain to avoid felony gambling charges that carried a possible 10-year prison sentence. | SEE STORY
Police closed her Internet café in a September, 2009, raid, but Marceau said she wants to reopen it. The Palm Bay city council has recently passed an ordinance that explicitly permits Internet cafes.
Attorneys for the operator said the business was protected by Florida's 1960s-era game promotion statute, which allows businesses to offer games of chance as promotional or marketing tools. To date not one sweepstakes game operator has been successfully prosecuted in any Florida jurisdiction, attorneys said.
An estimated 600 Internet sweepstakes cafés are said to be operating in Florida. As earlier reported by VENDING TIMES, competing bills now pending before the state legislature would either regulate or ban devices running the games.
Marceau's case received some notoriety last year after it was learned that Mayor John Mazziotti had phoned city police to urge them to avoid the negative publicity that would result from a raid or shutdown.
The Palm Bay mayor's phone call became controversial because it raised questions of improper influence or interference with law enforcement. The mayor reportedly told police that any raids would hurt his reelection chances.
Subsequent police statements on the matter implied that an FBI investigation could be underway into the mayor's actions. The FBI declined to comment.