PALM BEACH COUNTY, Fla. -- Palm Beach County plans to drop its ban on new Internet cafes, also known as sweepstakes cafes, which allow casino-style gaming without facing state gambling regulations.
The county in March imposed a yearlong ban on allowing more of the fast-spreading, arcade-style establishments that have been springing up in shopping centers across South Florida.
The county's temporary moratorium was intended to allow time to consider whether more local rules were needed about where — and if — the popular gaming sites should be allowed.
But on Wednesday, the County Commission opted for letting the moratorium expire. Instead of seeking an extension this spring, the Commission backed away from plans to create additional local regulations.
"I don't think it's a good use of staff time to start regulating these Internet Cafes," Commission Chairman Steven Abrams said.
The County Commission chose to leave it to the Florida Legislature to take up the matter of potential future regulations for the gaming sites, contending that it's a statewide issue.
The Legislature is supposed to discuss Internet cafes during lawmakers' spring session, but legislative action may not be coming this year, county officials said.
"Do I think they should be regulated? Yes," Commissioner Shelley Vana said. "We don't have the capacity to regulate them."
There are already more than a dozen Internet cafes in Broward and Palm Beach counties, with about 1,000 across Florida.
Typically at the gaming sites, customers pay for Internet time or phone cards and then play casino-style games to try to win cash or other prizes.
The games include computerized games as well as others that look like casino games, such as slot machines.
As county officials back away from the Internet café ban, they are stepping up efforts to get slot machines in Palm Beach County.
Voters in November supported a county referendum endorsing allowing slot machines at the Palm Beach Kennel Club, adjacent to Palm Beach International Airport.
One of the county's legislative priorities this spring is to lobby state lawmakers to follow voters' lead and allow slot machines at the kennel club.
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