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Sweepstakes Viddies Grow From Virginia To Florida

Posted On: 5/30/2010

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Internet-enabled sweepstakes videogames that pay cash prizes are cropping up from Florida to Virginia, leaving city and state officials in a quandary about how to respond. The games have long flourished in North Carolina, where House Speaker Joe Hackney (D-Chapel Hill) recently predicted the state legislature might amend the law to ban video sweepstakes games if the courts fail to do so. At least two district court judges have upheld the legality of the machines in North Carolina.

But now payoff sweepstakes games -- many located in Internet cafés -- have begun to proliferate elsewhere up and down the Eastern seaboard. In Florida, 400 people jammed a city council meeting in Jacksonville this month to debate the status of the games. As Internet sweepstakes gamerooms increase throughout the state, enforcement policies vary from one county to the next, and sometimes within a single county, according to local press sources.

Florida law enforcement officials admit that state laws governing the devices are very unclear. 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 by the Attorney General's office.

In Virginia, customers often fill the parking lots at Internet cafés. At Bennett's Internet in Roanoke, there's often a waiting list to get on the 40 machines where players can win up to $3,000 in a prize pool. Police have raided Internet cafés in Danville and Roanoke in recent weeks, but charges are unlikely to be filed because Virginia has no law on the books that unambiguously bans the devices, not unlike Florida and North Carolina.