SACRAMENTO, Calif. – The Sacramento County sheriff’s deputies took notice of the several people placing $2 bets on electronic games inside a business in a dark strip mall.
The storefront called Silk and Stars offered internet access and telephone cars to customers with sweepstakes games such as Robin Hood, Mr. Millionaire and Luck of the Irish played through video games that simulate like casino slot machines.
Based on the state’s law, however, this kind of business was illegal gambling operation.
In an attempt to halt internet sweepstake café operations in California, Assemblyman Rudy Salas, D-Bakersfield authored AB1439, a bill which prohibited the unfair practice of business through contests and sweepstakes.
AB1439 disallowed the use of an electronic video monitor to simulate gambling or play gambling-themed games in a business establishment that directly or indirectly implements the predetermination of sweepstakes cash, cash-equivalent prizes, or other prizes of value, or otherwise connects a sweepstakes player or participant with sweepstakes cash, cash-equivalent prizes, or other prizes of value. By creating new crimes, the bill would impose a state-mandated local program.
“This is a prolific problem that we’re seeing in our neighbourhood’s up and down the state, where we’re seeing these illegal gaming sweepstakes cafes opening up with a myriad of problems and issues of drugs, of prostitution, impacts to local legitimate businesses in these strip malls where these things are occurring,” told Salas.
On the other hand, Phillip Walker, founder of the Internet Cafe Association of California argued that internet cafes were not illegal.
“On the surface it looks like it’s illegal. But once you get down to the meat inside, it really isn’t,” expressed Walker who was also one of the appellants in the petition to review the internet case ruling granted by the state’s highest court.
Earlier, the California Supreme Court announced its decision to review two appellate court rulings which ceased internet cafes in Bakersfield and Kern County.
In March, the Kern County Superior Court ruled that internet café offering internet time and sweepstakes through unlawful slot machines or gambling device.
In another ruling, an appellate court also ruled that internet gaming cafes were in violation with the state’s gambling laws. The Fifth Appellate District in Fresno which ruled in favor of the Kern County District Attorney’s Office, ruled that internet cafes also known as sweepstakes cafes were illegal gambling organizations.
The defendants who operated internet cafes claimed the sweepstakes program was legitimate promotion to increase sale of telephone cards based in the Penal Code. They petitioned for a review of the cases which the highest court unanimously granted.
Los Angeles based attorney John H. Weston who represented appellants Kirnpal Grewal of A to Z Cafe as well as Walker of OZ Internet Cafe and Hub stated the unanimous grant “obviously was indicative that they thought it was serious which at the very least recognizes the case has interest.”
“They saw something there they wanted to review. The beneficial thing to everyone is, it will finally be said and done. We got it to the highest court in the land,” said Walker in agreement with Weston.
The Kern County District Attorney’s office, however, had mixed emotions.
“We’ve got mixed feelings about it. This is an opportunity to have that favorable ruling take on an even greater impact,” said Kern County Deputy District Attorney Gregory Pulskamp.
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