JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The owners call them Internet Sweepstakes, not gambling.
But new stats from the state's gambling hotline indicate some people are becoming addicted to the new businesses.
"They are attracting individuals that would not be driving to the Hard Rock in Tampa, or going out of state to other casinos. But now, they're right around the block," Brian Kongsvik, of the state's gambling hotline, said.
He said 122 people in Florida called the hotline saying they were addicted to spending money at the internet cafes. A third of those were in Duval County.
He reports 38 percent of those callers took from their savings to finance the habit and 31 percent admitted to committing crimes to get more money to spend at these locations.
"The adverse effects that these people are experiencing are no different that what people experience at ... traditional gaming facilities," Kongsvik said. "I think it's grossly under-reported; some studies show that only 1 to 2 percent actually get up the courage to make that call."
Allied Veterans operates dozens of these internet cafes across the state, including one in Orange Park. The company's lawyer said they are legal and it's not gambling because the outcome is pre-determined.
"They can simply ask the cashier, did I win anything on the sweepstakes? The cashier can hit two buttons and tell them if they won a prize. Or they can spend an hour or two revealing their sweepstakes entries," said Kelly Mathis, the lawyer for Allied Veterans.
Mathis says it's like the Monopoly game at McDonald's that reveals prizes.
But Kongsvik said he's never had anyone call the hotline with a problem with the Monopoly game.
The gambling hotline is (888) ADMIT-IT.
First Coast News