In­ter­net cafe games de­clared illegal

Los Angeles Times - - THE STATE - By Maura Dolan maura. dolan@ latimes. com

Com­put­er­ized “sweep­stakes” games that have been avail­able in some In­ter­net cafes in Cal­i­for­nia are illegal un­der state gam­bling law, the Cal­i­for­nia Supreme Court ruled unan­i­mously Thurs­day.

The cafes, of­ten lo­cated in strip malls, gas sta­tions or con­ve­nience stores, sell time on the In­ter­net or the tele­phone to cus­tomers, who then play the games.

Cafe own­ers ar­gued the sweep­stakes games were le­gal be­cause the re­sults were pre­de­ter­mined by com­puter soft­ware, not by the ma­chines that cus­tomers used.

The court said it didn’t mat­ter be­cause the re­sult still amounted to chance.

When some­one “plays a game to learn the out­come, which is gov­erned by chance, the user is play­ing a slot ma­chine,” Jus­tice Ming W. Chin wrote for the court.

“In each in­stance, the busi­ness sold a prod­uct ( ei­ther In­ter­net time or tele­phone cards) and, along with the prod­uct, pro­vided the op­por­tu­nity to play sweep­stakes games, with the pos­si­bil­ity of win­ning sub­stan­tial cash prizes.”

The rul­ing stemmed from at­tempts by pros­e­cu­tors in Kern County to shut down the games. Lower courts ruled they amounted to illegal gam­bling, and the own­ers of the cafes ap­pealed.

In the mean­time, the Leg­is­la­ture passed a law pro­hibit­ing sweep­stakes games. Gov. Jerry Brown signed it last year.

Ac­cord­ing to the Amer­i­can Gam­ing Assn., a trade group, the games have been of­fered in 12 states and have gen­er­ated more than $ 10 bil­lion an­nu­ally.

The group, which op­poses the sweep­stakes oper­a­tions, said cus­tomers buy In­ter­net ac­cess and phone cards only for the pur­pose of play­ing the games, which “closely mimic the ex­pe­ri­ence of tra­di­tional slot and video poker ma­chines.”

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