Internet cafe owners have gained the preliminary in their lawsuit challenging a Hillsborough County ordinance that pursues to close down the video sweepstakes parlors.
The plaintiffs say the county regulation, passed in December, violates their 1st and 4th Amendment rights.
The cafes, normally run in strip malls, sell phone cards, Internet use as well as printing and faxing solutions. To market those solutions, they state, they give customers Internet time to sweepstakes games that appear like video slot machines.
The managers of the parlors point out the winning numbers in the games are predetermined and do not differ from scratch-off sweepstakes cards that retail stores and fast-food restaurants advertise as promos.
However, the sheriff and county attorney regard the games as prohibited slots.
In their motions to dismiss the case, the county and the sheriff disputed the plaintiff’s position to file a case, however on somewhat different premises.
The county attorney’s office said the litigants were not being hurt by the law due to the fact that they offer cost-free Internet time to customers as a deal. The regulation states for the game to be unlawful, clients must pay “consideration” for Internet access to the games.
Gee’s motion contended that the sheriff’s office was not responsible for the statute, which was passed by the county commission. The sheriff is only responsible for enforcing the ruling and should be immune from the suit, Gee’s office said in its movement.
Pizzo ignored both disputes. Concerning the county’s claim, the judge revealed that the cafe clients receive cost-free sweepstakes possibilities in accordance with the volume of long-distance time they acquire. That aggregates paid consideration. The customers can also receive free time without buying items or solutions.
“In short, the county’s reading of the complaint is misplaced, and its arguments, as a result, fail,” Pizzo composed.
In the sheriff’s case, the judge mentioned that Gee’s office sent notices to video cafe managers warning them they could be in abuse of state statutes barring slots and that the sheriff can take enforcement activity.
The letters were distributed prior to the county passing its ordinance, yet Pizzo stated that didn’t matter.
Lawrence Walters, lead attorney for the cafe owners, pointed out both the county and the sheriff were attempting to suggest that the statute couldn’t be challenged in a lawsuit because it had not been being implemented yet.
However, that argument negates previous judgments in legal instances, he pointed out.
“If you have a law on the books that chills the exercise of First Amendment rights, you can challenge that law,” Walters said.
“That’s the only way to protect First Amendment rights– to be able to challenge a law before it is being enforced,” Walters said.
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