Local News

Tuesday, Mar 11 2014 06:06 PM

Law enforcement meets to discuss Internet cafes

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    By Felix Adamo / The Californian

    A couple enters the Lucky Lady Internet Cafe at 1713 20th St. in this file photo.

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BY THEO DOUGLAS Californian staff writer tdouglas@bakersfield.com

Members of several county law enforcement agencies met Tuesday at the Civic Center Justice Building to discuss recent court opinions against Internet cafes and talk about how to close them down.

An opinion issued Friday by the 5th District Court of Appeal in Fresno affirmed that sweepstakes or Internet cafes that sell Internet time offer "unlawful slot machine"- style gambling.

On Monday, the court opined that Internet cafes that sell prepaid telephone cards also offer illegal gambling.

The cases had "no material differences," the court wrote Friday, with the only literal difference being "that a telephone card (rather than Internet time) was the product purchased to gain sweepstakes points used on the game programs ... ."

Tuesday's meeting between members of the Bakersfield City Attorney's office, the Kern County Sheriff's Office's Special Investigations Division, the Kern County District Attorney's office, and Bakersfield Police Department officials did not result in a plan for immediate action against Internet cafes.

Law enforcement officials will convey what they discussed Tuesday to their bosses and continue meeting to refine a plan.

However, City Attorney Ginny Gennaro and Deputy District Attorney Greg Pulskamp said the day of reckoning is drawing ever nearer for the businesses.

"We know that the citizens of Kern County have been patient on having these open in their neighborhoods," Pulskamp said. "We know that and so we're moving as quickly as we can and as aggressively as we can while still respecting the rule of law."

The city attorney agreed.

"I would say the only final strategy is, the bottom line is, these places need to close down and the sooner they close down the better off everyone's going to be, and so that's really the message" we'd like to get out there, Gennaro said.

Internet cafe owner Phillip Walker, who formed the Internet Cafe Association of California, an advisory group for cafe owners throughout the state, was also an appellant in Friday’s case.

He said Tuesday he hopes law enforcement doesn’t just unceremoniously order cafe owners to shut businesses down.

“I think they should give due notice and allow them a certain amount of time to close out the sweepstakes portion of their businesses and make appropriate arrangements to lay their people off, get them paid, close out everything that could be owed to customers,” said Walker, who thinks cities should still consider allowing Internet cafes to operate with permits.

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