Jacksonville, FL - We’ve heard it from lawmakers time and again- the legislation aimed to ban internet cafes will not shut down legal business.
But just as often as that defense, comes a string of internet café owners- with thousands of cafes operating around Florida- claiming they will have to close their doors when the bill is signed in to law, which is expected to happen within the week.
WOKV has now learned that’s a battle that could wind up in court, centered on the question of whether the government can apply laws to a “legal” business retroactively, forcing them to shut down.
“Determine if anybody’s property rights were taken away or denied without either due process or equal protection,” says WOKV’s Legal Analyst Mark Rubin.
Rubin says property rights, in this case, are not really about the business itself, but the vested interest the owners have in it. Lawmakers are arguing the legislation, which specifically regulates the machines but is designed to shut illegal cafes down, is in the interest of public safety. This comes after Allied Veterans of the World was raided by investigators who claim their affiliate sweepstakes sites were actually illegal gambling locations, and they were profiting from the winnings.
Rubin says the question here is not whether gambling can be legislated- that’s already been made clear by prior laws. It’s also not really a question of public safety, because lawmakers have been able to make their point when specifically dealing with illegal gambling. Instead, we’re looking at whether a legal business now will be put out because of changes in the law itself.
“It won’t be the first time that the legislature, in a knee jerk reaction, did something to allow internet cafes to stay open,” he says.
Rubin expects that as enforcement takes hold, business owners who find themselves in that situation- if in fact the law does stray from intent- will take their claims to the courts. At that point, a number of questions are at play, including the retroactive effect of a law on a business.
“Could very well set an important precedent for the future,” he says.
He says while that’s playing out, there will be yet another fight over whether the cafes can stay open in the interim. That’s likely something the Attorney General would have to decide.