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Issue Date: Vol. 50, No. 10, October 2010, Posted On: 9/23/2010

Virginia Law Protects Sweepstakes Videogames, Says Operator

Marcus Webb
Ronnie Bennett, Virginia videogame sweepstakes parlors, sweepstakes promotions, Internet café, Roanoke police, sweepstakes game seizures, video poker, video gaming, sweepstakes video game, amusement machine, coin machine, coin-op news, Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell

ROANOKE, VA -- Ronnie Bennett, an operator from North Carolina who ran three videogame sweepstakes parlors here in 2009 and early 2010, is suing the city of Roanoke, seeking to recover 42 machines and about $12,000 in cash seized by Roanoke police last April.

Law enforcement officials said Bennett's Internet cafés were promoting illegal gambling. But in a defense that was often heard in similar disputes in North Carolina, Bennett's attorneys said his Virginia customers simply purchased time on his Internet terminals -- along with a chance to win a sweepstakes. His attorneys also said that playing gambling-style games on Internet café computers did not affect the outcomes of the sweepstakes drawings.

This case, however, has a fresh twist. Bennett's attorneys said that a new state law signed in May by Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell protects sweepstakes videogame operations. The law in question amended the state's gambling statues to protect sweepstakes promotions as "safe havens" for Virginia businesses, particularly in cases in which customers have a chance to win without buying anything. A local newspaper reporter said he won $8 in Bennett's Internet café without making any purchases.

Bennett's counsel also cited an opinion letter that was recently issued by Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli. The identical AG opinion letter was also cited by sweepstakes videogame operators in a similar case in Virginia Beach.

The Roanoke County Court will begin hearing Bennett's case on Nov. 2.

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