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Fans rally for sweepstakes

Published:   |   Updated: March 22, 2013 at 08:48 PM

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Local Internet sweepstake business owners, employees and enthusiasts congregated in the parking lot of Spinners Internet Cafe at 3025 Commercial Way Friday to support the industry the Florida House and Senate are working to disband.

As news cameras started rolling, women and men with signs reading, “Regulate don’t eliminate,” started chanting their slogans, calling for Tallahassee legislators not to take away what is, in their opinion, a harmless pastime. There’s no crime and no fighting in these cafes, some said. Others called to vote against Gov. Rick Scott in the next gubernatorial race and said that the Florida senators and House representatives don’t have a chance come re-election time if the ban does materialize.

“We do a good service to the elderly,” said Denise Worcester, manager of Megaplay on State Road 50, adding that Internet cafes are “comfortable” and “safe” places where many older members of the community find happiness and camaraderie. “Where are these people going to go?”

Jennifer Cooley, who works at Ducks R Us, waved a sign reading, “single mom of 5 save my job.”

Cooley’s mother, Deborah Simons, attended the rally to show support for her daughter’s occupation and her own pastime. Simons said she frequents Internet cafes three or four times a week, usually spending $20 on each visit. “And they feed you,” Simons added.

Doris Buchan, a snowbird from Ontario, said she wishes Canada had similar establishments. Buchan and her friend, Heidi Zoeller, said they’d been coming to Spinners since it opened last November.

“As long as they pay their taxes these places should be left open,” Buchan said. “I go once or twice a week and have a lot of fun.”

With a sufficiently riled crowd, Terry Kasberg, owner of Spinners and the event organizer, called for legislators to “do a proper impact study” before banning online gaming outright.

Kasberg said his business is not illegal and that he does not hire “illegals,” and he said if lawmakers came down to visit an Internet cafe, they’d find it pleasant, not illicit.

“We’re not bad people, we’re families,” Kasberg said.

“We won’t forget who you are next election,” Kasberg said, referencing state legislators, and said they would be trading in their “leather chairs for the PVC seat I’m sitting in.”

Kasberg has been gathering signatures all week for a petition to save Internet cafes in Florida, and many who attended the support rally signed their names as well.

Florida online gaming establishments — often called Internet cafes or sweepstakes — have been under heightened scrutiny since an investigation into Allied Veterans of the World revealed a $300 million conspiracy in the state and that profits were pocketed by executives, not given to charity.

More than 50 men and women in Florida and across the U.S. were arrested last week, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, and 80 vehicles/vessels, 170 properties and 260 bank accounts were seized.

Two Spring Hill men who co-owned Gin Lin Sweepstakes at 2402 Commercial Way were arrested on multiple charges of racketeering, operating a gambling establishment and lottery and money laundering.

Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll, who did public relations work for the organization, resigned from office last Monday after being questioned by investigators. No charges have been filed against Carroll.

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