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Thursday, Nov 21 2013 06:18 PM

Assemblyman promises Internet cafe legislation

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    By Casey Christie / The Californian

    State Assemblyman Rudy Salas speaks in this file photo.

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BY THEO DOUGLAS Californian staff writer tdouglas@bakersfield.com

Hours after a Bakersfield City Council committee learned Thursday that the number of Internet cafes in the city is on the rise, Assemblyman Rudy Salas, D-Bakersfield said he will introduce legislation to address the issue in January.

Cafe owners typically say their businesses offer relaxing lounge-like surroundings, business services and Internet access, and legal sweepstakes similar to the McDonald's restaurant Monopoly game.

City officials say the cafes are outlets for illegal gambling, and compare the computer software most use to "Las Vegas-style electronic slot machines."

Currently, however, the Kern County District Attorney's office is not filing cases against the cafes, pending two appellate court rulings that its attorneys say will strengthen their legal footing.

In the interim, the City Attorney's office is sending letters to owners and their landlords informing them that it believes what they are doing is illegal -- and reaching out to Salas for help.

"I intend to introduce legislation to bring clarity about Internet gambling sweepstakes and seek the best solution to stop the proliferation of thinly veiled illegal gambling operations," Salas said in a statement, characterizing the cafes as "a threat to both public safety and local business."

According to a Nov. 13 police memorandum presented to the Safe Neighborhoods and Community Relations Committee Thursday, the number of Internet cafes has grown from 12 to 13, with the opening of E. Net World Business Center, 4145 Ming Ave.

A tally by The Californian reveals two additional cafes at the Golden State Mall, 3201 F St.: Shockers, in Suites 157 and 158, and Oz Internet Cafe & Hub, in Suite 127.

"I'm really kind of shocked," said Associate City Attorney Thomas Geddes, when asked about the two cafes, adding that he will check on them.

Police Chief Greg Williamson said at the meeting that while the number of cafes has risen, none has generated excessive calls for service during the last 30 days.

"It appears that most of our enforcement actions have been taken outside the iSweeps Internet cafe," Williamson said.

According to the memo, Bakersfield police visited iSweeps and a neighboring cafe, iNet, three times last month.

Police arrested two people outside the two cafes on Oct. 15, one on suspicion of possessing methamphetamine and one on suspicion of possessing stolen property.

On Oct. 22, Bakersfield police arrested a felon allegedly in possession of a loaded, sawed-off shotgun at the shopping center that houses iSweeps and iNet.

The committee, which comprises three council members, also learned Wednesday that gang-related homicides and shootings are fewer so far this year than last.

Bakersfield police Lt. Greg Terry explained that gang-related homicides have declined from 15 for the period of January through October 2012, to 9 from January through October 2013.

Gang-related shootings have declined only slightly, from 52 for the period of January through October 2012, to 51 from January through October 2013.

Terry said in an interview that 20 of the year's gang-related shootings occurred in its first three months, and that violence declined as police increased enforcement.

"In the last nine months, we've only had 31 gang-related shootings," Terry said.

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