PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — The defunct Pizza Hut in Penn Hills has a new sign adorned with lucky sevens.
Inside, patrons sit at computer screens appearing to play keno and video poker.
Similar businesses in McKees Rocks and East Liberty claim not to be casinos, but their customers seem to think otherwise.
Male Customer: “It’s like a casino.”
Andy Sheehan: “Like a casino?”
Male Customer: “It’s like a mini-casino.”
Andy Sheehan: “You win any money here?”
Female Customer: “Yeah.”
They’re called internet sweepstakes cafes and maintain that rather than gambling, their customers buy computer time, play the games and win cash sweepstakes prizes. A promotional video calls it legal and above board.
The video says: “The system adheres to precise rule and guidelines. Just like the McDonald’s Monopoly Game. It may look like gambling but it isn’t.”
Joe Barrett of The Rivers Casino is concerned.
“I’m not sure what they’re doing, but I know somebody needs to look at their operation and determine whether it’s legal what they’re doing,” he said.
The Rivers says it’s paid hundreds of millions of dollars in taxes and licensing fees while these cafes get appear to get a free ride.
“And we give a lot back to the state and to the community and it troubles me to know that these type of operations don’t do those sorts of things,” Barrett said.
No local owner would return phone calls from Andy Sheehan, but he did speak briefly with a manager in East Liberty.
Andy Sheehan: “Is this a casino or it’s not a casino?”
Manager: “No, it’s not a casino.”
Andy Sheehan: “What’s the difference?”
Manager: “I can’t talk. It’s not a casino. I can’t talk to you.”
But in response to his inquiries, the State police say they have launched an investigation to, “determine what these cafes are and whether they are violating state gaming laws.”
Some in like Gerald McClendon in East Liberty have their own opinions.
“You know they’re ripping people off,” he said. “I feel sorry for people that go in there.”