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Ocala
Friday, June 14, 2024

Marion Commission backs ordinance that could shut down internet cafes

Marion County commissioners approved an ordinance Tuesday morning that bans simulated gambling devices and most likely will shut down internet cafes.

The ordinance bans the gaming machines that can be found in abundance at the close to 40 internet cafes in the unincorporated areas of the county. The measure, which was proposed by Sheriff Billy Woods, won’t force internet cafes to close. But it will limit the games they can offer to their clients and it is suspected that many of them will shut their doors without the popular simulated gambling devices in place.

The ordinance would impose fines and possible jail time on violators for each game that’s being operated. The measure would not affect family amusement centers or parimutuel betting establishments.

Attorney Tim McCourt, representing Sheriff Billy Woods and the sheriff’s office, told commissioners that the internet cafes in the unincorporated areas of the county have become a hotbed for crime. At the commission meeting two weeks ago, he showed a video of a violent robbery at one of the internet cafes. On Tuesday, he said another such robbery hard occurred and the bandit who targeted the establishment pointed a gun at the clerk and her 9-year-old child.

“It’s only a matter of time before somebody is killed at an internet café,” McCourt said.

Two weeks ago, McCourt said investigations involving internet cafes are quite pricey to taxpayers, often involving six or more law enforcement officers going to the businesses on multiple occasions, playing the various games there, applying for a search warrant and then executing that warrant. He added that serving such a warrant usually involves the SWAT team as well, which ties up a great deal of man hours.

“When you put it all together, just through the service of the search warrant, you’re probably talking anywhere from $7,000 to $15,000 per internet café,” McCourt said, adding the cost of prosecution is even more.

Several people spoke out against the ordinance, including those who provide security at internet cafes, attorneys representing the owners and residents who use the facilities. But in the end, the commission voted to enact the ordinance, with Commissioner Kathy Bryant saying it is deplorable that a gunman pointed a weapon at a child during an internet café robbery.