Disappointment for internet cafe operator in Florida

Tallahassee judge rejects argument that internet cafes do not violate Florida gambling laws

The Internet cafe operator who asked a Florida judge to declare that its activities do not violate state law was disappointed this week when its arguments were rejected by a Tallahassee court.

Allied Veterans of the World, which has had Internet cafes shut down in Seminole, Marion, Jackson and Pinellas counties, challenged the law in the state capital, reports the Orlando Sentinel newspaper, hoping for a ruling that would finally settle a long-running issue with enforcement agencies.

The non-profit group raises money for veterans' causes, using a loophole in the state's sweepstakes law to operate about 25 cafes around the state.

Starting in August this year, various centres were raided by police, disrupting business and spurring the Allied Veterans to turn to the courts for relief.

But Circuit Court Judge Jackie L. Fulford ruled that each sheriff in Florida is a local official and not an arm of the state - that means Allied Veterans of the World must pursue its challenge piecemeal in individual counties.

Allied Veterans of the World has other legal problems with which it has to contend; the Jacksonville Greyhound Racing Inc., which operates the Jacksonville Kennel Club, Orange Park Kennel Club and a poker room at the St. Johns Greyhound Park is launching litigation seeking to shut down the Internet cafes, with damages and costs.

"This was Allied Veterans' attempt to pick a forum to somehow have its practices declared lawful," said attorney Michael Freed. "Now that their attempt has failed, Allied Veterans will have to continue to defend the lawsuit that our client has brought to declare their practices illegal."

The lawsuit, filed in circuit court in Jacksonville in August, claims that Allied Veterans of the World is in violation of Florida's Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act and Florida's Civil Remedies for Criminal Practices Act. The lawsuit also maintains that Allied Veterans' establishments are a common nuisance under Florida Statutes.

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