PALM HARBOR, FL -- Sweepstakes videogame operator Megan Crisante, 23, turned herself in to the Pinellas County Jail April 25, one week after she was charged with 45 counts of violating state gambling laws. She was released on bond for a single gambling operation count and on her own recognizance for 44 counts of possessing an illegal device.
Crisante is the owner of PMP Café LLC, based here, and dba the Palm Harbor sweepstakes game café.
The episode is the latest installment in a years-long conflict between electronic sweepstakes operators, in particular the Crisante family, and local law enforcement.
In 2009, Marion County sheriffs raided and closed an Internet café operated by Crisante's step-mother, Jeaneen Crisante, and her father, Timothy Crisante, both of Marion Internet Services.
Following the 2009 raid, Jeaneen Crisante was charged with felony gambling charges and a misdemeanor slot machine possession charge. In October 2010, she was acquitted of all counts. As reported at the time by VT, jurors deliberated for under an hour -- then cheered and clapped for Crisante as the "not guilty" verdict was announced. | SEE STORY
In 2010 in Pinellas County, members of the Crisante family purchased a sweepstakes game location called Fun City. The business had previously been owned by State Rep. Peter Nehr (R-Palm Harbor). During the three-month period that he was an operator, Nehr insisted the business was legal and not a form of gambling.
Pinellas County Sheriff Jim Coats has taken an aggressive stance against sweepstakes videogames, insisting that they violate Florida gambling statutes. In May 2011, Coats issued cease and desist letters to sweeps operators in the county.
In July 2011, Pinellas County sheriff's deputies raided the former Fun City, by then renamed Palm Harbor, seizing 200 computers and $20,000 in cash. The current charges against the younger Crisante grew from that raid.
In September 2011, Megan Crisante filed a federal lawsuit charging Pinellas County law enforcement officials violated her constitutional rights when they raided her establishment last July. | SEE STORY
Meanwhile, the Florida Legislature has adjourned without taking action on competing bills that would have either, and decisively, legalized or banned sweepstakes videogames.
Crisante's lawsuit is not the only legal action taken by Florida sweepstakes operators to defend their market.
Allied Veterans of the World Inc. & Affiliates operates dozens of locations that feature sweepstakes entertainment. The organization, which describes itself as "a nonprofit organization that helps fellow veterans in need," has filed a lawsuit against the state Agricultural Commissioner, whose department regulates charities.
According to an April 27 story published by First Coast News, Allied's lawsuit contends that its charitable status means that it is exempt from requirements to report its revenues to the state.