American gambling laws can be far from black and white. All laws are open to interpretation. Moreover, lawmakers don’t dream up every contingency. Usually someone needs to be caught doing something dubious before someone decides to pass a law against it.
This is the case regarding new hybrid casinos, which combine elements of both traditional casinos and online gambling. Dubbed “internet sweepstakes cafes”, they also combine one other vital ingredient: online access, as a consumer might purchase at any internet cafe.
Internet sweepstakes cafes are similar to other internet cafes. Customers pay explicitly to get online, either by the minute or by utilizing pre-paid cards. What they do with the internet access is actually up to the customer.
However, customers going to the internet sweepstakes café aren’t usually going to check their e-mail or read the news. Instead, they are going to affiliated websites where they can play blackjack, slots, and other internet casino games.
Herein lays the loophole. According to the operators and their lawyers, customers are paying for internet access, not to wager. Thus, no gambling laws are being broken. These sweepstakes cafes are protected by the same laws which allow Publisher’s Clearinghouse to offer consumers the chance of winning vast sums when they subscribe to magazines.
Government and law enforcement officials in several states, including Ohio, Virginia, Florida, and North Carolina, see things differently. These cafes are being strategically located within economically downtrodden communities, adjacent to check-cashing locations and pawn shops. Customers are clearly being enabled and even encouraged to play games of chance during the duration of their visit.
Whereas a typical sweepstake offers customers a longshot in exchange for some contact information, these alleged gamblers are encouraged to spend money so they can play well established games of chance. After paying, the patrons have an experience which is virtually indistinguishable from that which they would have if they engaged in direct commerce with an online casino in the US.
While it is difficult to argue with the government position, this neglects the ultimate truth than adult should be free to spend his or her money as he or she likes. That said, no information is available at this time whether teens or children are visiting or making use of these establishments.