Internet sweepstakes cafes sprouted as quickly as weeds in our communities. In neighborhoods across Tampa and the region, sweepstakes cafes with slot machine-style gaming machines acted as vultures targeting honest people who wanted to engage in legitimate entertainment activities. It is for this reason that the Tampa City Council took the action of banning new Internet gaming machines and restricting the activities of current Internet sweepstakes cafes.
In Tampa there are 13 sweepstakes cafes, including eight in District Seven, which I represent. All eight are in the southern portion of my district, which spans from the Pasco County line to areas just south of East Busch Boulevard. At my request, and with Mayor Bob Buckhorn’s approval, the Planning Commission and citizens of Terrace Park, Copeland Park and University Square neighborhoods have been hard at work crafting a Community Vision Plan. This will be a guidance document for the city and the private sector, and a blueprint for neighborhood enhancements and future growth.
The citizens in these neighborhoods wish to improve upon the assets that exist within District Seven, such as Busch Gardens and Adventure Island theme parks, the University of South Florida, H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center, the Museum of Science & Industry and those in Hillsborough County, where Internet gaming machines have already been banned.
I believe the action of city council to regulate Internet sweepstakes cafes already in existence and ban new gaming machines was in line with those who saw Internet sweepstakes cafes invading their neighborhoods at a time when they wanted to chart a different path.
One day after the city council’s action, the Florida House voted to ban Internet sweepstakes cafes, but the Senate and Gov. Rick Scott did not take action on a similar bill last year. Until the Senate and governor act, the city of Tampa can only ban future establishments that conduct “simulated gambling.” Current facilities in the city will be severely restricted: Minors are not allowed, outdoor signage is limited and no new machines can be added.
It is my hope that the Senate and Gov. Scott take action and ban Internet sweepstakes cafes. Until the state acts, the city of Tampa will do what is in our power to make sure these invasive Internet sweepstakes gaming machines are eradicated from our neighborhoods.