By Bryce Abshier – Contact Bryce@TheVOSM.net
An ordinance to effectively prohibit Internet Cafés inside the City of Belleview will have a final reading on Tuesday, September 19 at 6:00 pm. The first reading of this ordinance passed at an earlier meeting by a measure of 5-0.
Eight of these businesses exist inside the city, where patrons can win points on electronic gaming devices. The points are then exchanged for cash payouts.
At the earlier meeting, Police Sergeant Michael Miley described walkthroughs he conducted of all eight businesses with an agent of the Florida Gaming Control Commission. “Following the walkthroughs last week, the agent has advised me based on his training and experience that all eight locations are illegal gaming establishments,” said Miley. “All walkthroughs found that all of the establishments have illegal slot machines that are outlined in Florida State Statute 849.16.”
A focal point of Sergeant Miley’s presentation was a video that showcased the inside of an Internet Café. “It’s an expensive video game,” said a café employee who spoke candidly in the video. “Most the time you’re gonna lose,” she said. ”It gets real addictive, real quick. I’ve seen people lose their light bill, their mortgage.”
At several locations, a kiosk was observed by Sergeant Miley and the state gaming agent that allow the user to receive a web link on their phone. They can then play the games without even being at the business and return for a cash payout.
Commissioner Dwyer shared his thoughts on the video. “I don’t believe I’ve ever seen an employee of Publix or any place that you went into tell you how you’re going to be ripped off in the establishment. To sit there, and I’m not anti-gambling per say, but for someone to sit there and be so comical about ‘oh yeah, they lose their light bill, they lose their electric bill’,” said Commissioner Dwyer.
Dwyer then shared how he witnessed kids being left in a vehicle outside of an Internet Café. “I pulled up outside the one next to the CVS and a lady left her kids unattended in the car so she could go in an get the money off of the app that Sergeant Miley was talking about,” said Dwyer. “She was playing from home, ran inside and left her two children in the car.”
Miley’s presentation left no doubt as to the legality of these businesses. “Yeah, so just to clarify, all of the locations have illegal games. The free standing slot machines that were there previously were taken out and they have been replaced with a web-based slot machine game, and per what he (the state gaming agent) advised, all of those locations that have that are illegal. The way the fish game tables operate, those are illegal too,” said Sergeant Miley.
Commissioner Bo Smith offered his thoughts. “Until this instance happened, the games that were in there were legal. People can twist it all they want on social media and talk all over their head like they know what they’re talking about,” said Smith. “That’s one reason we stuck with it for a while. Technically by our state they were legal. But now they’ve brought illegal games in. Even with the legal games we had problems with these places.” Smith also described conversations he has had with locals who work in Belleview. “I’ve talked to some of the employees that work next door to some of these cafés and they look at me point blank and start telling me how terrible it is. How they don’t feel safe at times when they go to their car, when they go to close at night, you know, what’s in the parking lot,” he said.
Belleview Police Chief Terry Holland explained the problems these businesses present to law enforcement. “The problem with the fish games establishments, it takes extremely specialized training that one, they don’t really offer. The people from the gaming commission get it at a federal level,” said Chief Holland. “That’s why we had to call them in, we can’t make the determination legal or illegal games. We don’t have the capability or the knowledge. And based on their inspection of all eight and pointing out illegal machines, if we were doing that investigation today, we’re going to have to call in a moving company, seize those machines, store them for the next year until this plays out in court. That’s quite an expense that’s going to be dealt to the city.”
Commissioner Mike Goldman spoke on the financial burden that policing these internet cafes would put on the city. “We would have to have a storage facility that we would have to pay for, we would have to have a detective that would have to go into each of these places and play them according to the state’s recommendations. We don’t have the money, and I am certainly not going to put a tax on the citizens,” said Goldman. He then suggested a way that could potentially breathe new life into Belleview’s maligned Internet Cafés. “Now, I know this is the first reading. And I don’t know if somebody from the consortium of ‘fish games’ people want to come in at the next meeting and say ‘Hey, we’ll donate the however much the Chief would say… to stay’,” said Goldman. “My only thoughts, in making any decision here, is based on what it would cost the citizens. And I cannot put that burden on them.”