Just three years ago, there wasn’t a single cyber café in town, as far as Palm Coast Occupational Licensing Supervisor Jay Maher can remember. Now, roughly six of these computer-based, simulated-gambling establishments are peppered throughout the city; two have recently expanded their business space, and Maher’s office receives daily inquiries from others across the country wanting to move in.
A trend has been ignited. But to Maher, why remains something of a mystery.
“Maybe they look at our demographics,” Maher said, but he added it’s more likely that Palm Coast currently enforces no restrictions on online sweepstakes.
“It doesn’t appear that we’re even discussing anything like that,” Maher said.
Mayor Jon Netts concurs: “It’s completely unregulated.”
Netts, who raised the Internet café issue Tuesday, March 15, at the City Council, called the state’s gambling policies “discriminatory.”
“We already have gambling, and it’s regulated to some extent,” Netts said, citing dog racing and poker rooms. “So, is this gambling? … You’ve got to be consistent.”
Netts continued: “I am not anti-gambling … (But) if this is gambling — and I believe it is — then there should be regulations on that industry.”
But it’s not a simple issue. Seminole County recently enforced a moratorium banning cyber cafés from conducting business in the area, Netts said. “And they promptly got sued,” he said, for restraint of trade.
Other counties have added Internet cafés to their adult-entertainment zoning list, mandating that those businesses set up shop in less conspicuous, and oftentimes less desirable, areas.
According to Netts, the sheriff has reported no incidents of café grounds attracting an “undesirable element” in Palm Coast. Maher has received no complaints from store owners neighboring these facilities, either.
“If they’re not creating a public nuisance, and if they’re not attracting minors … then maybe there’s no need to regulate them by zoning,” Netts said. But because the potential is there, he added, the issue should be analyzed.
“I honestly never thought it’d be this when I opened up,” Mike Brown said, owner of Lucky Day Sweepstakes, one of the longest established cyber cafés in Palm Coast. “I never thought the city would let this many of them come in.”
According to Palm Coast’s occupational licensing office, more cyber cafés are coming to town. Records show occupancy orders filled for one next door to City Hall; negotiations are under way to open others in St. Joe Plaza and on Palm Coast Parkway. Three more out-of-state owners are currently making serious inquiries. Another owner is interested in opening multiple locations.