Retooled Internet Cafes in Florida Shut Down

Earlier this year a major political scandal erupted in Florida over the operation of internet cafes and a fake veteran’s charity. The scandal reached the highest levels of state government and Lieutenant Governor Jennifer Carroll was forced to resign. Sixty people were charged and prosecutors said the veteran;s sharity was in reality a front for a $300 million a year gambling operation. The organization, Allied Veterans of the World, operated 50 internet cafes throughout Florida. The cafes featured computerized slot machine-style games which are legal in Florida if the proceeds go to charity.

Investigators and prosecutors say that the charity’s operators gave little to veterans and instead spent millions on themselves. They bought boats, beachfront condos and Maseratis, Ferraris and Porsches. Florida attorney general Pam Bondi called the scam “callous” and “despicable” and said the charity “insults every American who ever wore a military uniform.” The cafes were popular with senior citizens and many are unhappy that the cafes were closed. Several bingo halls in the state reported increased player numbers after the cafes were closed. Some former café players visited online bingo sites to play bingo and slots.

Recently a couple of cafes tried to make a comeback of sorts. Two new gambling parlors in Sarasota and Manatee counties closed after a visit by Sarasota County Sheriff’s deputies. A lawyer for Jack’s Bingo and More operations told reporters that employees at the Lockwood Ridge parlor were threatened with arrest if they refused to close. Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Wendy Rose said that deputies did not threaten employees. Rose said deputies were seeking financial records and that Jacks owner Ron Carabbia closed both locations when shown a subpoena.

The closures came a week after a local newspaper began an investigation of the gambling parlors and asked for a sheriff’s response to an article about the gambling operations. Carabbia’s legal predicament could have far reaching consequences for operators trying to reinvent an industry that was destroyed earlier this year. Carabbia offered a type of game known as “electronic pull tabs” and says the games are legal under Florida’s bingo law. Under the law proceeds are supposed to go to charity and Jacks Are Wild has partnered with two youth sports leagues.

Wolf said deputies visited the Lockwood Ridge Jacks and told employees that they would be arrested if they did not close. Wolf said he is trying to “see exactly what it is they have a problem with.”

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