In Kern County, there are eight internet sweepstakes cafés, which are sometimes referred to simply as internet cafés. However, some suspect what’s for sale is a chance to win money, which would make them casinos.
The District Attorney’s office says it is currently investigating four of them in Kern County and working to shut them down. 17 News went inside one of the cafés called ‘Online Fun,’ which is located behind Mercado Latino on Edison Highway in Bakersfield.
Inside the business, customers are able to purchase time on computers, which gives them free internet access and the option of playing games of chance. Erica Arias, Manager of Online Fun, says it is simply an internet service which they provide to their customers.
“You log in. You can either browse the internet, go on Facebook, MySpace, pay your bills or you can play games. It is not a slot machine or a casino in any way. You are not gambling,” she said.
However, Deputy District Attorney Greg Pulskamp says places like this constitute gambling. “The bottom line is if somebody is paying money for the chance to win additional money by a purely random process, then that is gambling.”
Daisy Lugo of Bakersfield says she comes to the center because she doesn’t have internet at home, and it gives her a chance to catch up on e-mail.
“It’s like when you are on Facebook at home, you can play games too that you need to use a credit card to buy credits, so it is basically the same thing,” she said.
The District Attorney’s office advises anyone who is considering opening a business like this to understand the liability. “It would be wise to advise anybody out there that is considering opening this business along these lines to realize that they are exposing themselves to criminal and/or civil liability.”
The manager of Online Fun said they have been open for three weeks and haven’t had any major problems, partly because they do not allow or serve alcohol.