If Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd has his way, the newly-emerging business of gambling in Internet cafés in Polk County is dead in the water.
Judd held a press conference in front of The Horseshoe, an Internet café in the Westridge Plaza in Davenport on U.S. 27 at 150 California Blvd., on Aug. 15, to announce that his undercover investigators had infiltrated the recently-opened business that billed itself as an “Internet sweepstakes” operation.
According to a press release issued by the Sheriff’s Office, on Aug. 1, detectives received an anonymous complaint of illegal gambling taking place at “The Horseshoe.” On Aug. 9, detectives conducted an investigation into the illegal gambling operation. Detectives, posing as customers, entered the business and gambled on computers that represented slot devices. No customers were observed doing anything other than gambling on these devices, which Judd said was a violation of state law and a disruption to the community.
This gambling operation utilized desktop computers to simulate slot machines for customers to gamble on as games of chance.
Customers paid cash to an employee in exchange for a magnetic swipe card that contained the amount of money paid as credit.
These magnetic swipe cards were then used to activate each computerized gambling device.
The computers are modernized versions of slot devices and represent the older style handle driven slots. Instead of pulling a lever on a device, each patron presses a key on a computer keyboard. Each device contains multiple games of chance for the customer to win or lose money. Once the desired game is completed, the patron then takes the magnetic swipe card back to the cash register to cash out.
The investigation also determined the clerk working at the business when detectives gambled was Angela Byers, of Deltona, the second person named in an arrest warrant.
On Aug.15, officers arrested the owner of the café, Ryan Ault, 30, of Orlando, at the scene, and Judd shut down The Horseshoe effective immediately.
The place was swarming with Judd’s officers and press people as they removed all of the furnishings from the café and hauled them off in a trailer.
About the same time, two sheriff’s deputies emerged from The Horseshoe with Ault handcuffed and deposited him into the back seat of a squad car. Ault remained silent in the face of a barrage of press microphones and cameras.
Judd said he doesn’t believe in any form of gambling, including the state lottery, and will continue to prosecute felons to the extent he can under the law. He said running an Internet gambling operation is a felony and he was aware of one other such operation in Polk County and shut that one down.
Judd said he doesn’t intend to charge any individuals who were gambling at the Horseshoe, terming them “victims.”
Christina Daugherty, a property manager working in the small strip mall where The Horseshoe is located, said she did not notice any disruption in the mall during working hours. She termed the bust of The Horseshoe “a little bit of overkill.”
Questioned on what resources and priorities he assigns to this sort of thing, Judd told two reporters he has no discretion in going after felons.
Judd said the property taken from The Horseshoe would be forfeited unless the owner successfully challenges that action in court. Judd said his people took “everything but the carpet and the walls.”
There may be some confusion about the law among those running or thinking of running Internet café gambling operations.
Sheriff’s Office spokesman Scott Wilder said some people are using what he termed a “loophole” in the law that allows sweepstakes to justify Internet café gambling.
Ault and Byers were each charged with 50 counts on each charge, which corresponded with the number of machines (50) seized by PCSO deputies.
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