PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — A KDKA Investigation exposed concerns about so-called internet sweepstakes cafes and today the state legislature took action.
Lawmakers unanimously approved a measure to shut down these businesses.
Operators say they are in the business of selling pre-paid long distance cards, but critics say the cafes are casinos in disguise.
KDKA Investigator Andy Sheehan first raised concerns about the cafes in May and lawmakers say his investigation led to action today.
The reports questioned whether internet cafes are actually thinly-veiled casinos. Even their customers found the experience very similar to casino gambling.
Male Customer: “It’s like a casino.”
Andy Sheehan: “Like a casino?”
Male Customer: “It’s like a mini-casino.”
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.”
Operators say they sell pre-paid long-distance phone cards — and players use that time to play video games for potential cash payouts. But real casino operators say it’s unregulated gaming and just a fancy way to circumvent gaming laws and taxes.
“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,” Joe Barrett of the Rivers Casino said.
Bill sponsor State Rep. Randy Vulakovich, R-Shaler, said the reports moved him to draft legislation to ban the cafes.
“I’m glad you brought it to light because, you know, we’re working real hard to really make the gaming in Pennsylvania as clean and transparent as possible,” he said. “So our approach was here to kind of nip it in the bud – just stop it before it grows into a huge animal.”
The bill must be approved by the state senate and then go to the governor’s desk for signatures. Sponsors say the time to act is now to avoid a situation like that in Florida where there are already more than 1,000 of these cafes.