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Operators In Virginia, Florida Jump On The Sweepstakes Bandwagon

Posted On: 4/23/2010

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Four Internet cafés in Roanoke, VA, with sweepstakes games were raided during the week of April 12. Police seized $22,580 in cash and 126 computers. The games required players to pay $6 per hour for online access and offered casino-style gameplay, as well as a chance to win up to $3,000 in cash in technically unrelated sweepstakes drawings. Officials said charges are unlikely to be filed soon, pending further investigation.

Separately, raids on locations with sweepstakes games have been staged in Danville, VA. A bill pending in Virginia's General Assembly would ban "free spin machines" but not Internet sweepstakes games, according to a story in the Roanoke Times. The measure is expected to pass.

In Florida, Internet sweepstakes gamerooms are popping up across the state, said the North Florida Herald. But enforcement policies vary from one county to the next, and sometimes within a single county, reports the Tampa Tribune.

These venues, as well as non-networked adult redemption arcades that also offer big cash prizes, are technically regulated by the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. However, operators must register only if they award prizes higher than $5,000 per machine. A department spokesman said most arcades keep their top prizes just under that limit so they don't have to file; consequently, the state has no idea how many such gamerooms operate in Florida.

Police have shut down some Internet gamerooms, adult redemption arcades, in Pinellas, Hillsborough, Sarasota, Duval, Marion and Broward counties, while leaving others free to operate in Manatee, Sarasota and Pinellas counties. Some cases went to court, but judges threw them out for lack of evidence, local press outlets reported.

The reason for the inconsistent enforcement, according to an official of the Eighth Circuit State Attorney's Office, is simple: "The laws are as clear as mud."

More regulation of Florida's adult redemption arcades and Internet sweepstakes gamerooms may be coming. State Sen. Michael Bennett (R-Bradenton) has sponsored a bill to legalize these sites statewide.

State Sen. Mike Fasano (R-New Port Richey) said he might sponsor a bill next year to amend Florida's so-called "Chuck E. Cheese" law, which permits skill games with material rewards to winning players. Fasano's amendments would require all Internet gamerooms to register with the state and would increase oversight.

The Florida Arcade Association reportedly backs Bennett's bill and many larger operators also support Fasano's on the grounds that explicit regulation confers legal protection and legitimacy. According to the Tribune, the arcade association has donated $52,500 to candidates in state election campaigns since 2003.