By Cindy Jackson
January 2, 2020
Is it a game of chance, a game of luck . . . or just good ol’ fashioned “gambling?” (as one speaker referred to during his presentation in support of such establishments).
The proliferation of “internet cafes” in Nassau County was the subject of a special meeting of the Board of County Commissioners on the evening of December 30th. It was a special meeting – not a hearing, nor was it a workshop per se – which means that no votes were taken. And no vote will be taken until January 27, 2020.
On December 30, the BOCC heard from interested parties, that’s it. Those who spoke came from Nassau County, from Jacksonville and one from Camden County, GA.
A draft ordinance was presented for all to review. But again, no votes were taken on the subject matter. That won’t happen until January, 2020.
The Commission chambers were packed and Jacksonville TV news crews lined the back of the room and their vans dotted the parking lot.
County Attorney/County Manager Michael Mullin initiated the discussion stating: “We have an issue in Nassau County,” and went on to say, “Simulated gambling devices are averse to the quality of life.”
Mullin cited statistics from Duval County where there had been over 28,000 calls for service to just over 90 establishments. Consequently, Jacksonville via ordinances enacted by Duval County have outlawed such establishments.
As a result, the number of “Internet Cafes” here in Nassau County has risen from 14 to over 30.
Sheriff Bill Leeper presented his findings by way of an Executive Summary. (The Executive Summary appears below.) In an 11-day period, he reported 28 incidents including violent crimes, robbery, burglaries, and “snatch and grab” crimes. In addition, his undercover officers witnessed narcotics being sold in some of the establishments and prostitution was on the rise.
Outgoing Commission Chair Justin Taylor declared that he would vote for a ban of such establishments noting that “gangs, drugs and prostitution” are not welcome in Nassau County.
Incoming BOCC Chairman Danny Leeper echoed those sentiments saying “these places are crime magnets.”
Comments from the public were split down the middle with those in favor emphasizing that establishments such as these are much needed venues for fellowship opportunities and a place to go for entertainment. Another argument employed by proponents of Internet cafes was that many of these buildings used have been empty for so very long and that such businesses are a welcome source of income adding that with tenants come additional employment opportunities.
Several men of faith also took to the podium. In sum, they cited the social ills that result from this type of establishment and how these “internet cafes” undermine the integrity of a system designed to improve the lives of the greater whole. That instead of fellowship and entertainment, these places simply add to the “hopelessness and helplessness” felt by so many.
Another individual who spoke in favor of such establishments stated “I am a Christian but I am also an American” (referring to the notion of free enterprise) and said that he has never been propositioned by any of “those 78-year old women.” [referring to an earlier stat about the rise in prostitution.]
One owner who had previously spoken before the BOCC made mention of the fact that he supplies turkeys to the needy in the community and donates money to area wrestling teams as a result of the business he runs. In defense of these establishments, he reminded commissioners and individuals in attendance that “folks can’t go to church without people being shot.”
Those speaking in favor of keeping these businesses open did seem to be in agreement, however, of the need for the industry to be more regulated. One such concept that appeared to have unanimous approval was the suggestion that they not be open 24 hours.
Another speaker in favor of internet cafes was quick to point out that crime occurs at convenience stores and bars yet those businesses are not being targeted.
January 27th, 2020 at 6PM has been set as the date when the BOCC will vote on the draft ordinance.
Editor’s Note: Born in Hagerstown, Maryland, Cindy received her BA in Political Science from Dickinson College. Upon graduation, Cindy began her career on Capitol Hill working as a legislative aide and director. She later became a part of the public relations and lobbying team of the American Iron and Steel Institute and served as director of the office of state legislative affairs for the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA). Cindy was involved in economic development with the state of Maryland, and served as executive director of Leadership Washington County. As a community volunteer, Cindy participates in numerous volunteer activities serving as a member of Sunrise Rotary, and as board member of Cummer Amelia Board of Directors.