Casino Circumvention?

March 23, 2011
By

By Seth Daniel

seth@reverejournal.com

Inside the 'Lucy Day Sweepstakes Cafe', a clean, quiet layout is in contrast to the controversy that has arisen over what some police call an illegal gambling operation that exploits a loophole in the state law.

It’s the Internet Café that pays off in more than computer chips, or at least local police and state officials say.

A storefront café now called “Lucky Day Sweepstakes Café” in the new Bell Circle mall has turned quite a few heads lately – including those of Revere Police, the Boston television media and many in the general public. However, operator and lifelong Revere resident Bobby Kelley said it’s nothing to be that worked up about.

It was believed that for some time now illegal gambling has been going on in the establishment, but according to Capt. Michael Murphy of the Revere Police, the activity isn’t illegal, but is another loophole casino.

While they do give payouts in cash for accumulating credits while playing casino-style computer games, it is allowed. Such operations have been dubbed “loophole casinos.”

Such terms have been applied to café businesses and phone card machines, both of which use the sweepstakes exemption – an exemption similar to what McDonald’s or Burger King uses for their chance games – to operate what appears to be a mini casino. Due to that sweepstakes exemption in the law, cafes like Lucky Day and the abundance of phone card poker machines in the city, are legal and allowed to operate as long as they state that no purchase is necessary to play the game.

Besides Revere, there are other facilities throughout the state, including one in Lynnfield and others on the South Coast.

“It’s disturbing and frankly it’s infuriating and I’ll be waiting with baited breath to shut them down when it becomes apparent we’re legally able to do so,” said Murphy. “It’s wrong at every level and it’s also unregulated.”

Murphy said that the business operated as an Internet Café for quite some time and had little to no business. They are licensed only as a common victualler in order to serve coffee and snacks. Upon his first inspection last fall, Murphy said he was satisfied. However, in the last few months – after changing their name – Murphy said things there have changed.

Kelley provided a tour and explanation of his business this week to the Journal.

“It’s a legitimate business and people are going to take their shots at us,” he said. “That’s to be expected.”

He said that in no way is he operating an illegal casino. In fact, such businesses are growing rapidly even in a down economy.

“No, it is not illegal gambling, it’s a sweepstakes,” said Kelley. “The difference is you can come in any day at any time and play for free. That’s one of the biggest differences between us and a gambling operation…If they [play for free] and win $1, $100, or $50, we pay them like anyone else. They don’t have to do anything to play.”

To comply with the loophole, the café allows people to play for free, and those players are given one chance and 100 points to use in the sweepstakes games.

Kelley explained that the primary business, though, is selling Internet time on regular personal computers. The layout of the place is rather inviting, very clean and quiet. Computers line work tables and small lights provide a nice atmosphere at every terminal, while high-backed leather chairs provide a comfortable place to park oneself for a time.

The café sells 20 minutes of Internet time for $5, and in exchange the café gives customers 500 free points to use in 27 different sweepstakes games – all of which are played on the computer terminals.

In playing those Casino-style computer games, customers can win more points and – when they’re finished – exchange those points for cash payments from the café.

“Some choose to play and some don’t,” he said. “You don’t have to. Those that do choose to play the sweepstakes, the games are casino-like games [on the computer]…There’s no limit to what you can win. If someone wins  more than $599, they have to file a form. We give them a check and they have to pay taxes on it just like everyone else.”

Kelley added that a good deal of his business is people coming from the nearby Registry of Motor Vehicles – people who are looking to use the computers to do work or to make quick printouts. He said there are also a lot of people who want to use the computer to check their e-mail or search the Internet.

“The atmosphere here is very friendly and inviting and people have gotten to know each other,” he said. “It’s become an enjoyable afternoon for people whether they’re working on the computer or playing the sweepstakes. It’s become a great place to spend an afternoon.”

The police, though, don’t see it that way at all. They see it as a place that is preying upon a vulnerable population.

“I went down last week with [License Commission Chair Tom] Henneberry and it was quite busy and quite apparent what was going on,” said Murphy.

However, at the moment, it cannot legally be acted upon.

The Attorney General’s office told the Journal that the business may or may not be legal, and the State Lottery Commission also told the Journal they are looking into the matter with the AG’s Office.

“We are aware of this issue and are looking into it,” said Harry Pierre, a spokesperson for AG Martha Coakley. “These must be dealt with on a case-by-case basis, but people should be aware that if there is an exchange of money, it may be a violation of the law. If people have questions or concerns, they can contact our office’s consumer hotline.”

Two or three years ago when the video poker phone card machines began to pop up in every convenience store around Revere, the state seemed to take the same tack. They agreed to look into it and to figure out if it was illegal or not.

Meanwhile, police said that several decisions on those machines were not supportive of law enforcement’s desire to shut them down. Now, law enforcement feels that the cafés may continue just as the phone cards have continued.

“These businesses and businesses similar to it seem to be taking advantage of a lapse in the law,” said Murphy. “In the meantime, we’re hoping maybe the License Commission or the AG’s Office or the State Gaming Commission will come down and begin to close this window.”

  • Pom41

    BooHoo— the state is crying because they are not receivng a cut from these activites. The Lottery is not going to suffer, funny the don’t see the lottery as a form of gambling–My opion of this state government is not very good. Connecticut, Rhode Island Atlantic City have the sense to allow casinos and receive the funds from all of the Mssachusetts people who choose to gamble. Wake up and leave these Internet Cafes alone, they should be able to make a living without engaging with the likes of our state idiots. Also we do not have to drive 2 hours if we want to pass a few hours enjoying the games.

  • Dl Costa

    Regulate it, tax it and get out of my business. Why on earth would you care what anyone does with their time.

  • Screwtape353

    I rather play Keno at your bar BUDDY’S! And yes I ‘m calling it Buddy’s because it will always be Buddy’s to use old Revere residence!

  • Ichor

    I couldn’t agree more. Besides, Seniors get tired of twiddling their thumbs!
    Rob C.
    Braintree, Ma.

  • Ichor

    Smoke Marijuana??? Under an ounce??? Play a game too!!!! We are not going to live forever, so enjoy the life one chooses for him, or her self!

  • Ichor

    If that’s your choice, well enjoy your life. This is what I mean. Freedom, within reason of course!

  • Ichor

    McDonald’s, Burger King, Publishers Clearing House, General Motors, Proctor & Gamble have been doing this for years. Now the little guy surfaces, and the lottery may look at the little people as fleas on the dog. The dog being the lottery. Heavens if it may lose a drop of blood.
    Let people decide for themselves, like the people who fight our war’s so we can all be free. There’s enough blood for everyone, so Lottery, don’t get your knickers in a twist!

  • Neen

    Fairhaven’s Internet Cafe was closed down and raided yesterday, its only a matter of time before they walk into Revere and close them also.

  • Lawrence

    No problem Gangs in REVERE officer Murphy? Why don’t you leave the retirees and the small business owners alone and have your “closer” look at Shirley Ave and Coolidge St……there is plenty for you to do there.

  • Cmb1939

    There is nothing wrong with playing the games at the cyber cafe–If the State of Massachusetts does not want to open a casino why should the patrons of these cafe’s be penalized–
    why should we have to travel  1 or 2 hours to another state to play games we love and we are still going to do it no matter where they are so why not legalize it in Massachusetts bring money into our own state create jobs  and leave the cyber cafes alone.  If patrons want to go —SO WHAT

  • Chin02151

    The biggest gambling establishment in the state is the MA Lottery. Are they kidding? People blow their entire paychecks on scratch tickets, daily numbers, keno, etc and this is NOT a problem? I can’t legally bet $100 on a football game, but I can buy 5 $20 scratch tickets (and most likely lose) without a problem. As long as the state is not getting their cut, then it’s considered a problem and illegal and loopholes… Shut down the state lottery then I’ll pay attention to this crap about poker machines and cyber cafe’s.

  • Camsuffolkgrad

    I think that the law should use all of this energy, time, and tax payers money to go out and catch real criminals and leave these businesses alone.  These are places that the elederly, handicapped and depressed, can come out and socialize for a bit.  This entire raiding sickens me, go catch bank robbers and rapists, or is that too difficult a task?

  • Susan

    It is such a shame to shut down places like this that brings absolutely no harm, and give people like myself, who is retired, a place to enjoy ourselves.  I now go to a place in Hampton Falls, NH on 97 Lafayette Rd, where I can play the same games.  It’s too bad there’s no more in Massachusetts.

  • Pom41

    susan what were you thinking–you never should have given the address in new hampshire—I am sure you know by now that it has been shutdown

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