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Issue Date: Vol. 51, No. 2, February 2011, Posted On: 1/21/2011

Virginia AG Backs Video Sweeps Bans

Marcus Webb
Ken Cuccinelli, sweepstakes video game, sweepstakes ban, Internet sweepstakes games, electronic sweepstakes, Virgina sweepstakes games, video game, video gaming, Johnathon Stewart, Commonwealth University, amusement machine business

RICHMOND, VA -- Three separate bills have now been introduced in the Virginia General Assembly to ban Internet sweepstakes videogames. The sponsors are Sen. Mark Obenshain (R-Harrisonburg), Del. Clay Athey (R-Front Royal), and Del. Glenn Oder (R-Newport News).

In a surprise reversal of his stance last year, Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli has endorsed all three bills in principle. He said the bills would clarify state gambling laws and prohibit illegal practices that some operators are pursuing in spite of existing laws.

The bills would ban "the purchase of a product or other thing of value as a condition for an opportunity to receive a benefit through a game of chance."

Internet sweepstakes games typically sell phone cards or Internet time on computer stations while permitting users to enter sweepstakes with cash prizes. Typically, sweepstakes outcomes are revealed with casino-like computer games.

The casino-style "reveal," combined with cash awards, has caused many officials to equate them with gambling -- although Cuccinelli himself said in an opinion letter in July 2010 that sometimes this practice amounts to legitimate promotion. | SEE STORY

"The bills provide clarification as well as a solid affirmation that this form of gambling has always constituted illegal gambling and is subject to prosecution under existing Virginia law," Cuccinelli said in the release.

Internet sweepstakes cafes are operating across the state, most notably in Caroline, Chesapeake, Chesterfield, Danville, Emporia, Front Royal, Hampton and Petersburg, along with Pittsylvania, Richmond, Roanoke, Spotsylvania, Virginia Beach and Warren County.

Dr. Johnathon Stewart, a law professor at Commonwealth University, hinted that the three bills banning sweepstakes videogames might not pass the state assembly -- or constitutional muster.

Several jurisdictions have conducted independent investigations and concluded that there are "clear and distinct differences between gambling and operating legitimate sweepstakes," said Stewart.

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