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Senators back Internet sweepstake cafes

A Senate panel endorsed allowing Internet sweepstakes cafes to continue Thursday morning, dealing a bad sign to supporters of a ban on venues they call gambling havens.

The Regulated Industries Committee voted 8-1 for Sen. Miguel Diaz de La Portilla's regulation bill that allows the cafes to continue. The dissenter was Sen. John Thrasher, who rued the expansion of gambling.

"I guess there's a shortage of real crime out there. There's a need to create some more so you can go ahead and prosecute it," said Diaz de la Portilla, a Republican from Coral Gables, said in response to law enforcement officials' opposition.

With signs pointing to defeat, Sen. Steve Oelrich had his bill for a ban pulled before a vote after conferring with Rep. Scott Plakon, who leads the charge for the ban in the House.

A House committee voted for a ban this week to close a grey area that allows the cafe's use slot-machines, which supporters say employs 8 to 13 people at more than 1,000 venues in the state. Authorities, including Gov. Rick Scott and Attorney General Pam Bondi, call it illegal gambling.

"I think it's disappointing but it's still in the process," Plakon said after the vote.

The cafes are tangled in the destination casino resort fight too. The Senate bill allows the cafes, but the House bill is moving ahead with a ban.