ALBANY — Waiting in hopes that state legislators will overcome last year’s hurdles on a statewide ban of Internet cafes, the Albany City Commission voted tentatively Tuesday to extend its ban on issuing new licenses or permits to organizations that the city’s attorney said were de facto gambling operations.
The city currently has a moratorium on Internet cafes, but that resolution is set to expire next week, City Attorney Nathan Davis said.
The board put a temporary halt on the startup of any new organizations last year after learning that the Georgia General Assembly had plans to tackle the matter when it convened in January. But when Gov. Nathan Deal failed to sign the bill into law when the session ended, the city found itself back at square one, Davis said.
“What we’re doing is hoping that the Legislature will move forward. ... They passed something (last session) but it didn’t get enacted in 2011, so we’re hoping this legislative session will pass something the governor will approve of and there’ll be a state law we can enforce down here.”
Internet cafes teeter on the line between outright gambling organizations — which are illegal in Georgia — and legitimate companies that allow access to the Internet by way of computer terminals by selling patrons time on the computers on the premises, which are set to go to Internet gambling sites.
In August, Deal announced a partnership with the state attorney general’s office and local law enforcement to crack down on the so-called cafes.
“Today we’re coming together to send a clear message to an illegal gaming industry and the concerned communities throughout the state of Georgia,” Deal said in an Aug. 18 press conference at the Capitol. “Our state law prohibits gambling. The code is black and white on that issue.”
Davis shares that opinion.
“Well, the Internet cafes, in my opinion, appear to be gambling and violate Georgia’s gambling statute,” the city attorney said.
The commission also tentatively voted to put a moratorium on the proliferation of so-called event centers, which some on the commission believe are just a ruse to get around city and state alcohol ordinances.
“Event centers have become an issue with the commission and the community, and so now we’re looking into regulating them, banning them or whatever,” Davis said. “It seems some of them had alcohol present when they’re not licensed, overparking, noise issues and just general public safety (concerns).”
There is no state law that defines event centers in the context of having the ability to serve alcohol. If they were conference centers, for example, they could host events where alcohol is served or sold, but the caterer hosting the event would have to be properly permitted and licensed. On the other hand, if they were bars, they’d have to have a permit themselves and limit the age of occupants to those above the age of 18.
“I think that’s really where the rub is. State law just doesn’t really identify event centers and how we should treat them,” Davis said.