Thursday, October 25, 2012 : MARYLAND ENFORCEMENT IN CYBER SWEEPSTAKE RAIDS
10 online gambling and sweepstakes businesses searched
Maryland enforcement agencies appear to be lowering the boom on internet cafe sweepstake operators, with reports in the Baltimore Sun newspaper that county police in Towson had executed search warrants on 10 online gambling and sweepstakes businesses.
A police spokesman said the raids, which were carried out in conjuction with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Homeland Security Investigation, and the U.S. Attorney's Office, was the culmination of a year-long investigation ordered by county police Chief Jim Johnson.
Police said the investigation "established that the businesses were using electronic gaming devices in an illegal manner."
During the investigation, undercover detectives had gone into the establishments, used the computer terminals at the internet cafés and were given monetary pay-outs for points earned, police said.
No arrests have been made, but police said charges could be filed at the conclusion of the investigation after the evidence recovered in the raids is examined.
In related news, police in Brentwood, California imposed restrictions on computer gaming and Internet access establishments, following the lead of Antioch, Pittsburg and Oakley, which have all placed moratoriums on Internet cafes.
The legality of these operations has been fiercely debated and some cities have tried to ban them as illegal gambling operations nationwide, according to Brentwood City Attorney Martin Lysons.
The Brentwood City Council approved an ordinance Tuesday night to place regulations on these controversial businesses, with Brentwood Mayor Bob Taylor noting: "It is a pre-emptive strike to avoid consequences in the future."
Brentwood's new ordinance requires a licence, background checks on employees, a permit application process managed by the police chief, limited hours of operation, video monitoring, an alarm system, proper lighting and prohibitions regarding minors, illegal gambling and adult-oriented businesses within these commercial enterprises.
Cyber cafe users and owners argue that the sweepstakes games made popular at these sites are considered promotional sweepstakes and legal in California, according to Lysons. Owners also often say that by selling Internet access, they are promoting speech and communication, which are protected by the First Amendment.