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House and Senate both like this gambling bill

House and Senate committees on Wednesday added provisions to an agriculture bill that would essentially sanction the establishment of so-called sweepstakes Internet cafes, operations that have sprung up across the country and which many maintain is defacto gambling.

The amendments to SB 2060 and HB 761 were offered by two Miami-Dade Republicans, Sen. Alex Diaz de la Portilla and Rep. Juan Zapata. The provisions allow the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services to regulate and register these sweepstakes Internet cafes, some of which have already opened in North Florida.

The way the cafes work is that a person goes in and buy either a phone card or Internet access for $5 or $10. In exchange, they get to enter a sweepstakes that is run on an electronic machine that looks very similar to an electronic slot machine.

Diaz de la Portilla said he was pushing the measure as a way to police a largely unregulated industry and that he doesn't want consumers to be subject to scams, noting that no one now checks the electronic machines to make sure they aren't fleecing the public.

"It makes sure these places are legitimate,'' said Diaz de la Portilla. "It's a good consumer protection bill. We need to be protect the people from those engaged in deceptive activities."