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Deltona softens stance against Internet cafes
By Al Everson
posted Mar 14, 2011 - 9:40:45am
Wanna bet Deltona will keep its hard line against Internet cafes?
At its March 7 meeting, the City Commission signaled it may take a kinder and gentler approach to online gambling businesses.
In February, the Deltona City Commission approved an ordinance that would have outlawed Internet-sweepstakes cafes within city limits. Internet cafes sell Internet access, and patrons play online sweepstakes or games of chance to win prizes.
Deltona’s approach to regulating the cafes was more hard-line than the actions of Volusia County and other West Volusia cities, where new cafes have been restricted to unattractive zoning classifications, such as industrial areas.
But now, Deltona’s hard-line stance is on hold. Instead of approving the cafe ban on second reading at its March 7 meeting, commissioners voted to extend a moratorium on new cafes for 90 more days, to give officials time to gather more information.
Deltona now has three Internet cafes. Those businesses secured licenses from the city before the commission imposed a six-month moratorium last fall, and are exempt from the freeze on similar businesses.
“We’re inadvertently creating a monopoly or an oligopoly,” Commissioner Herb Zischkau said.
One point discussed in the latest debate was the amount of time an existing cafe would have to close — for remodeling, for example — and still be safe from new regulations upon reopening.
City Attorney Gary Cooney advised the governing body to allow more time for an Internet cafe to suspend business. Cooney recommended changing the provision in the proposed law from 90 days to six months, for such a business to close temporarily and reopen, perhaps under new ownership, with new management, or after a renovation.
“Under this draft, they would be allowed to move,” he told the City Commission. “They would be allowed to transfer that business license.”
Changing the time from 90 days to six months would treat Internet cafes the same as other types of businesses.
Deltona’s land-development regulations give other businesses six months to close temporarily without having to restart from the beginning of the licensing process. Cooney and Zischkau — who is also an attorney by trade — favored the longer time as a matter of consistency in regulations.
Commissioners also brainstormed about exchanging an outright ban on Internet cafes for a new law allowing them to operate in industrial zones. Commissioners could readily identify only one industrially zoned property within the city, and that is a small electronics plant along Enterprise Road, not far from Deltona Middle School.
But one commissioner didn’t like the idea of locating sweepstakes cafes near schools or churches.
“We should not have these businesses near these places,” Commissioner Zenaida Denizac said.
In advising the County Council on ways to regulate Internet cafes, Volusia County Attorney Dan Eckert said Seminole County’s outright ban is already being challenged in court. The new law Deltona was considering is also an outright ban.
Asked about Orange City’s ordinance, which permits Internet cafes only on industrially zoned land, Cooney said Deltona may want to follow that lead as more legally sound.
“It’s a safe harbor, perhaps,” he said. “You have very limited industrial property.”
Deltona Mayor John Masiarczyk said he expects to learn more about options for regulating Internet cafes. Also, he added, the Florida Legislature may pass bills dealing with Internet cafes and other forms of gambling. A state law may pre-empt, or override, efforts by local governments to regulate Internet cafes.
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