Beach prosecutor consults police about sweepstakes cafes

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by Patrick Terpstra | Follow me on Twitter: @patrickterpstra

WVEC.com

Posted on July 26, 2010 at 5:11 PM

Updated Wednesday, Sep 22 at 2:50 PM

VIRGINIA BEACH -- A little bit of Vegas has come to Hampton Roads, but it may not be here for long.

In the past few months, Internet sweepstakes cafes have opened in at least three locations in Virginia Beach.

Commonwealth's Attorney Harvey Bryant said he is consulting with police about whether Internet sweepstakes cafes violate the state's gambling laws.

North Carolina Governor Bev Perdue signed a law last week banning Internet sweepstakes cafes.

There is no explicit law about the cafes in Virginia, where most forms of gambling are illegal.

"I ride by one that's up in my neighborhood and see the sign out front, which just based on the sign out there would tend to say it's a gambling operation," Bryant said. "But I haven't been in there."

Doug Harris opened his sweepstakes cafe on Reon Drive in April.  He said he sells one thing and one thing only -- Internet time.

When a customer buys time on the Internet at one of Harris' 19 computers, they also receive entries into a Nevada sweepstakes.

One way to see if any of your entries are winners is to play games on the computer screens, Harris said.

A winning video game is linked to whether any of your sweepstakes entries are winners, not chance.

Harris said his biggest winner to date took home $890.

He said his sweepstakes is no different than playing a scratch-off sweepstakes at a fast food restaurant.

"If they shut me down, are they going to shut McDonald's down, Publishers Clearing House, Coca-Cola?" Harris said.

If Virginia Beach Police ultimately decide to charge any Internet cafe with illegal gambling, as police have done in other Virginia cities, Bryant said he would carefully weigh whether to prosecute.

"It would be a precedent-setting event," Bryant said.

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