SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (WWLP) - The owner of a former Internet café in Chicopee Falls was sentenced to probation after pleading guilty Friday afternoon to illegal gambling charges; more than two years after city and state police raided his business.
Steven Sheldon, 49, who owned Cafeno Cyber Café on Main Street, pleaded guilty to five charges both on his own behalf, and on behalf of the company. The charges include managing a gaming enterprise and selling tickets for purpose of an illegal lottery.
When Cafeno's was raided by police in March of 2010, prosecutors say they found computers with sweepstakes games, where customers could buy points or dollars to play casino-style games for cash prizes.
"Employees at the café stated that at any given point the vast majorities of the customers would utilize the terminals to play games as opposed to accessing the internet," said Tim Wyse, Assistant Attorney General to the judge.
After entering each plea individually, Sheldon’s attorney, Tom Lesser, said that his client unknowingly got involved in illegal activity. He says that had Sheldon known what he was doing was illegal, it would have stopped.
"Yes, he's guilty of the crimes, but he's not guilty in the sense that he didn't know he was operating illegally," Lesser said. "He went to counsel, someone who is not a district court judge, who gave him advice and said yes you could do that under Massachusetts law. He thought he was acting legally and he did it openly and he did it for 18 months and at no point did the attorney general order the Chicopee police or state police come to him and say you can't be doing this this is a problem."
Sheldon was sentenced to two years of probation; far less than the potential 15 year prison sentence that had been possible. The judge ordered him to forfeit $250,000, including some of his business assets.
Sheldon's business partner, Steven Megliola, is facing similar charges, did not plead out in court Friday.
The same day Gov. John Kasich signed legislation that would effectively eliminate Internet cafes, opponents of the bill vowed to get voters to repeal it.
The bill signed Tuesday by Kasich would take effect in 90 days. But if a referendum effort succeeds in getting the issue on a statewide ballot, the law might not take effect for more than a year, if ever.
That effort will begin very quickly, said Mark Weaver, an attorney and consultant who will help organize the ballot issue. The effort will involve the internet cafe industry, but also others who want to see the businesses regulated, rather than banned.
To be successful, those opposing the law will have to collect a lot of signatures from registered voters -- an amount equal to 6 percent of the votes cast in the last gubernatorial election, said Matt McClellan, a spokesman for Secretary of State Jon Husted. That amounts to more than 231,000 names.
And those signatures cannot come from just the large urban centers. Rather, they must come from voters in at least 44 counties across the state.
And it all must be completed before the 90-day clock expires and the law takes effect.
If the effort is successful, the law would not take effect until voters get their say. And since the deadline to get this issue on the November ballot falls in early July, voters likely would not see the referendum until November 2014.
Lawmakers in both houses of the General Assembly approved the bill with strong bipartisan votes. Attorney General Mike DeWine, an advocate of the bill, said the legislation was needed to crack down on what he described as illegal mini-casino operations operating without regulation.
DeWine has argued that the cafes are fronts for illegal gambling and other serious crime, such as human trafficking and money laundering.
“The new law will provide Ohio law enforcement much needed clarity between legitimate sweepstakes and the illegal gambling which has been taking place at Internet cafes across Ohio,” DeWine said in a statement Tuesday.
His office, working with local law enforcement, had pledged to crack down on the industry. A spokesman for the attorney general said that effort could continue if the new law was delayed.
Opponents of the law argue that the so-called sweepstakes cafes are operating legally, and that they serve a role in their communities, paying taxes to local governments and providing employment.
Some legislators favored regulating the industry, rather than banning it. A bill that would do just that remains in the House. The day the Senate approved the new law, Sen. Bill Seitz, a Republican from Cincinnati, delivered a eulogy to the industry on the Senate floor.
“Today it is my privilege to give the eulogy for the 6,000 to 8,000 people that will be put out of work by the adoption of this measure,” said Seitz, who cast a “no” vote.
“The biggest flaw in this bill is that it takes the approach: Shoot 'em all and let God sort it out,” Seitz said.
The Ohio Free Enterprise Alliance, a political action group for local governments, including several from Northeast Ohio, on Tuesday called for a referendum effort to begin.
“It’s important to note that every concern raised during the legislative process could have been resolved through reasonable regulation instead of a ban,” the alliance’s chairman, Jon Grimm, said in a statement. “The only public polling done on this matter shows just 20 percent of Ohioans support prohibiting Internet sweepstakes cafes.”
Communities will lose revenue from sales taxes and local fees and jobs, Grimm said. “We call on Ohioans who share our view to begin collecting signatures to place this on the November 2014 ballot.”
Michael Nelson, a Cleveland attorney who represents some cafe owners, said they are ready to take up the fight. He already has met with several owners who see referendum as their best option, and has more meetings planned.
If vendors and manufacturers in the industry can help with financial resources, the cafes can provide foot soldiers to circulate petitions, Nelson said.
“Their industry has been attacked. Their livelihood has been affected,” he said.
The internet cafe is a gamer's version of a local pub. Instead of alcoholic beverages and fried chicken, internet cafe's have desktop computers and rows of junk food. The internet cafe is sometimes like a dirty bar offering a simple cold beer or a gentleman's exclusive club that radiates with expensive flowing champagne and jazz music. How do you choose the right Internet Cafe for your gaming needs?
When playing MMOs, the first thing you need to know in choosing an Internet Cafe is the location. The closer the better. You don't want to choose an internet cafe that's too far from your house since you will be spending a lot of time to travel. In case of bad weather, you'll be able to rush back home. In case you usually play at night, the closest Internet Cafe should be your optimal choice since traveling at night is dangerous whatever country you are in.
You should also check out if the internet cafe is located in a safe place. All the good stuff like ambiance, good quality hardware and fast internet connection will be useless if the internet cafe is not safe to play in.
The worst thing that can ever happen to gamer in an internet cafe is to look a guy who just ran a triathlon. When choosing the right Internet Cafe for your gaming needs, choose a well ventilated shop. The best one would the shop with a working air conditioner that doesn't make loud noises. There two reasons why an air conditioned internet cafe is better than one without it.
First, an air conditioned shop will be relaxing and comfortable. You are definitely paying the shop to enjoy your MMO games so being given a simple electric fan will not do. Imagine playing Counter Strike or WoW in your basement and running back to your room every 15 minutes because your T-shirt is sweaty. Not only will you be dissatisfied with this but you'll obviously be stressed out. Gaming is also about de-stressing yourself.
Second, computer hardware must be properly ventilated. When choosing the right internet cafe, you need to make sure that your PC doesn't suddenly stop while you're clearing a dungeon.
When choosing the right Internet Cafe, pick a shop that is well lighted and spacious. Playing in small tight den is like being stuffed into a broom closet. If you enter an internet cafe that is crammed to the brim, you will not be able to enjoy yourself and will end up leaving early. Gamers who are mostly considered as introverts do not enjoy playing in crowded areas. The same thing goes with proper lighting. Players must be in a well lighted room when using the computer.
Hardware, Software, and Internet Connection:
For MMOs, the most important thing is having good hardware and stable Internet Connection. Most of the online games today need a processor of at least 1.6 Ghz, up to date video card, and 1 Mbps Internet speed. When it comes to hardware, the minimum should be i3 processors as anything lower is going to ruin your game time. I've noticed a lot of players complaining that they are constantly disconnected from the server. When I asked them what type of processor they are using or the internet speed they have, most willl respond saying they are using computers that reach the minimum requirements. When we say minimum requirements, these are the minimum specs you will need to run the game at that time. Once the game updates their content like more skills or graphic animation, your minimum specs will not be able to handle it. That is why when choosing the right Internet Cafe, choose one who has the most updated hardware.
When playing in a public place like an internet cafe, you must check out the programs installed within the computer. There are applications like keyloggers or hacking tools that will try to steal your MMO account. Of course, this will indeed take a few minutes of your game time but at least you know your account is safe.
The most important thing you should remember when scouting for the right Internet Cafe to play MMO games is to find a place where your friends play as well. Gaming is all about fun while making new friends and playing MMOs is like a mere extension of that. Always find a place that is comfortable for you and your circle of friends.
By: Jose Luis Dionson
Chinese Internet Cafes aren't the best place for minors; so much so that legally they're not allowed to let them in. Unfortunately for Chinese parents, there are a few "black" Internet cafes that operate unscrupulously. Luckily, one mother was able to win her fight against a conscienceless net cafe.
On Thursday, the Guangzhou Daily reported that a group of internet cafes in Foshan, Guangdong province were raided by the police for conducting "illegal" business. Eight illegally operated net cafes were shut down and 15 suspects were detained by the police. The cafes were shut down because they didn't have any business licenses and they were allowing young children in.
The police raid was authorised as a result of an investigation following a post written by a mother desperate to "save her son". The woman, whose son is still a minor, was at her wits' end with her son's gambling habit, which he had developed by playing an online slot machine game at the internet cafe.
According to the woman, her son had started visiting an internet cafe to play games with his friends. Over the course of his visits, the boy started getting attached to the cafe, spending most of his time there. He would steal money and various smaller electronic devices to] pay for his net cafe expenses.
The mother said she visited the net cafe and asked the owners not to allow her son in anymore. Sadly, her request was denied, and she was also asked to leave so as not to disturb the other customers.
The mother's post was sent to police by socially conscious netizens, and the police went and did their thing. It's unknown if the minor is back home being weened off his "gambling" habit, but hopefully he'll be more careful in the future.
Kotaku East is your slice of Asian internet culture, bringing you the latest talking points from Japan, Korea, China and beyond. Tune in every morning from 4am to 8am.
[未成年儿子混迹黑网吧 绝望妈妈发帖求解救] [Guangdong Daily via Tencent]
The Senate approved House Bill 7, which essentially would ban the businesses, sending the measure to the desk of Gov. John Kasich, who is expected to sign it. The new law would go into effect 90 days after receiving his signature.
The measure passed both houses despite objections from two local lawmakers, Sen. Gayle Manning, R-North Ridgeville, and Rep. Matt Lundy, D-Elyria.
North Ridgville Mayor David Gillock, a Republican who has spoken on behalf of Internet cafes in the past, could not be reached for comment. However, he previously said the businesses, which the city regulates, bring in more than $100,000 annually for the city from licenses and fees.
The newly approved legislation would set sweepstake prize limits at $10, which supporters of the businesses said would put them out of operation. Because of the small prizes, customers would not want to play, they argued.
North Ridgeville Law Director Andrew Crites said the new law will severely restrict but not actually ban the businesses.
“It appears to us that it will be up to the individual cafe owners to decide if they will try to survive under these new, very limiting restrictions,” Crites said. “At this time, the city of North Ridgeville does not plan to devote limited resources to police the establishments in our jurisdiction for compliance with the new restrictions.
“As is referenced in the house bill, the state has avenues and agencies in place to enforce their new regulations, and we welcome and shall not impede their efforts to do so. What we do not intend to do is allow this to be interpreted as another unfunded mandate from Columbus to drain our continually strained operating budgets.”
While many Lorain County officials said they would have preferred other options to the restrictions passed, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine applauded the approach. DeWine has been leading a crackdown on Internet cafes in Cuyahoga County that he alleges operated illegally.
“I applaud the actions of both chambers of the General Assembly to make clear the distinction between legitimate sweepstakes and the illegal gambling taking place at Internet cafes across Ohio,” DeWine said. “This clarity will make it easier for local law enforcement to enforce Ohio law. I look forward to Gov. Kasich signing these bills very soon.”
The second bill DeWine referenced was companion legislation that prohibits new Internet cafes from opening, effective immediately upon the governor’s signature.
Internet cafes have computers with games that resemble slot machines. Critics call the games gambling, while proponents say they are predetermined sweepstakes. Customers buy phone and Internet cards that give them time to play on the computers running the games. The businesses have been around for several years, but officials, including Ohio courts, had differing views of whether the games were forms of gambling that should be outlawed.
Critics of the Internet cafes said they could attract crime, including money laundering.
“I don’t think it is reasonable or fair,” Rep. Lundy said of the new law. “We often get rid of bad actors in all kinds of industries without making every single other business suffer.”
Lundy, Manning and Gillock have said they would have favored stronger regulation of the industry instead of banning it.
“I think we could have found a more reasonable and fair approach,” Lundy said. We could have weeded out the bad actors and kept other Internet cafes open that are operating properly.”
Manning said she never heard of problems locally with illegal activity at Internet cafes.
“Some people are talking about all the illegal activities going on at them,” she said. “I’ve talked to the people in our district. They said there’s none going on. I just spoke with Mayor Gillock before the vote. He said we’re not having any problems at all.”
Manning said she feared closing the businesses would hurt honest business operators and their customers.
“I hate to see them close up because I talk to a lot of people who go there,” she said. “They say that for $20, they have a good time with their friends.”
“The losers here are the residents who want the Internet cafes, the shopping centers that will now have vacant storefronts, the business owners, the people who work for the Internet cafes, and the communities that generate additional dollars from the Internet cafes,” he said. “The only winner I see in the picture is the casinos. They got what they wanted. They flexed their muscle.”
Statewide, 6,000 jobs could be lost when the Internet cafes close, Lundy estimated, citing figures provided by the industry.
However, it’s possible this won’t be the last that is heard of the Internet cafe issue. Both state legislators said a lawsuit and an effort to put an issue on the ballot to legalize Internet cafes are likely to follow.
“I think what you’ll end up seeing is a legal fight,” Lundy said. “You’ll probably end up seeing a referendum and letting the voters of Ohio decide.”
Manning said that is one of her concerns. She thought that regulating the existing Internet cafes was a better decision than banning them and having a ballot issue appear before voters that could set lax restrictions on the cafes in the future.
See more North Ridgeville news at cleveland.com/north-ridgeville.
More Bay-Village stories
Regular internet cafes, no, traditional internet cafes, feel so yesteryear. Yes, customers can come in with their own laptops and tablets for the WiFi, but the cafes still have desktops that they expect the customers to use. An internet cafe in Senegal has decided to put those big machines away and have tablets instead, and Google is helping them trial the concept.
Google posted about the project on its blog yesterday saying the tablet model would result in significant savings for the cafe. “Tablets consume much less power than desktops or laptops, and don’t require ventilation.” said in the post. Which is true of course. Tablets are also getting cheaper by the day; much faster than their desktop grand parents. And this is especially so for tablets running Google’s own operating system, Android.
It’ll be interesting to see if this succeeds, but we think it’s a model that can be adopted in the wider Africa. We imagine it’s a great model for cafes looking to provide services in low income rural communities where there’s no national grid electricity, and where people cannot afford to buy their own internet enabled devices.
image credit: Google
COLUMBUS, Ohio - Ohio lawmakers on Wednesday delivered a fatal blow to Internet cafes.
The Senate voted in favor of House Bill 7, effectively banning Internet cafes in the state. Gov. John Kasich is on board with the decision and will sign the bill once it reaches his desk, his spokesman said.
Moments before lawmakers took the vote, Sen. Bill Seitz delivered what he called the industry's eulogy.
"Today it is my privilege to give the eulogy for the 6,000 to 8,000 people that will be put out of work by the adoption of this measure," said the Cincinnati Republican, who cast a no vote.
"The biggest flaw in this bill is that it takes the approach 'shoot 'em all and let God sort it out,'" Seitz said.
Seitz suggested Internet cafes be regulated instead of wiped out, adding that communities could benefit from cafe revenues. Putting an end to the cafes only serves "the convenience of prosecutors who don't want to go through the trouble of separating the wheat from the chaff," he said.
The measure passed with a bipartisan vote of 27-6.
Internet cafes operate by selling Internet time or phone cards and in return offer free chances to win cash on computer games that often resemble slot machines. The businesses have survived in a legal gray area.
The 6th District Ohio Court of Appeals ruled that Internet cafes are legal businesses that offer sweepstakes promotions. The 8th District Ohio Court of Appeals contradicted the decision and ruled several cafes were operating as illegal gambling houses.
The 8th District ruling bolstered Attorney General Mike DeWine's crackdown on the cafes.
In April, federal, state and local police raided six Internet cafes in Cuyahoga County under DeWine's lead.
Sen. Jim Hughes on Wednesday echoed DeWine's fervor, linking Internet cafes to money laundering, fraud, and drug and human trafficking.
"Although these cafes provide a source of income for some... Internet cafes harm more people than do good," Hughes said.
Joe Rice, a Cleveland-area Internet cafe advocate, said the businesses he's visited in Cuyahoga County are not ripe for crime.
"The clientele I've seen is a bunch of retirees who are enjoying themselves. I don't see [Internet cafes] as anything sinister," Rice said. "There might be some that are not savory, but if you regulate it, you can screen out the bad apples."
Rice said the caf owners he represents will explore legal options to keep their businesses afloat.
Cuyahoga County Prosecutor Timothy J. McGinty sees the crippling of Internet cafes as a success.
"These 500 illegal, unregulated, corner gambling parlors have been making tens of millions of dollars by swindling their poor, elderly, and vulnerable slot players," McGinty said in a statement. He credited DeWine and Ohio public safety director Tom Charles who he said "refused to be intimidated by big money or politics. They and their investigators were determined to end the exploitation."
A voter-led initiative to repeal HB 7 could be the Internet cafe industry's last hope.
"Our next step is referendum. That's the only plausible option," said Michael Nelson, a Cleveland attorney who represents a handful of cafe owners. "We lost this round, but there are other options for us."
Senate Bill 115, a companion to HB 7 that would extend an existing moratorium on new Internet cafes, passed the House Wednesday with a vote of 76-14. The bill included an emergency clause that would ensure the bill takes effect immediately following the governor's signature. The moratorium would extend through June 2014.
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After hearing sometimes tearful testimony from owners and employees of Internet cafes, members of the Senate State Government Oversight and Reform Committee voted Tuesday in favor of legislation that would ban the businesses. Four of the committee's 11 members voted against House Bill 7 -- not enough to keep it from moving to the Senate floor Wednesday for a vote.
The contentious legislation, which moved through committee without amendments, could end up on the governor's desk this week.
"At the end of the day, the conclusion was the bill that we were given best answered the question that was before us," said Sen. Dave Burke, the committee's chairman. "Adding other things to it or taking it and changing it would not have added value to the bill that we had.
Burke said due process will decide if banning Internet cafes is the right move.
The businesses have been scrutinized for what investigators call illegal activity, including money laundering. Internet cafes operate by selling Internet time or phone cards, and in return offer free chances to win cash on computer games that resemble slot machines.
Opponents of HB 7 say the businesses provide a strictly legal and valuable service.
"The customers that come into our cafes are older and come into the cafe not just to take part in the sweepstakes, but also to have social time with their friends," said Tammy Mathia, an Alliance Internet cafe owner. "We have never had any illegal activity in our stores, ever. If we even hear customers use curse words, we ask them to leave."
More than 6,000 Ohio jobs would be lost if HB 7 passes, Mathia said.
The state has an estimated 800 Internet cafes.
Michael Nelson, a Cleveland-area lawyer who represents multiple Internet cafe owners, said he is hoping legislators will change their mind Wednesday on the Senate floor, but won't count on one.
"I'm disappointed in the decision to ban instead of regulate," Nelson said. "I would hope that small businesses in Ohio would be protected. Cafe owners have been maligned unfairly."
A voter-led drive for referendum could keep Internet cafes open. Such an initiative could stall HB 7 from taking effect until fall 2014.
"I think there are various directions that this could go. Of course we still have it going to the Senate floor and the governor's office," Burke said. "There's a judicial process that could play out. There's ballot initiatives that could play out. None of which, by the way, I think are negative. This is a very complicated issue."
While Senate lawmakers moved on HB 7, members of the House Policy and Legislative Oversight Committee unanimously voted in favor of extending an existing moratorium on Internet cafes. Senate Bill 115, which will move Wednesday to the House floor, includes an emergency clause that will bypass the traditional 90-day period between when the governor signs legislation and when it takes effect. The clause will throttle the expansion of Internet cafes in the state while the fate of HB 7 waits is decided.
The current moratorium on Internet cafes would expire June 30. SB 115 would ban new Internet cafes for another year.
TAMPA — House Bill 155 was designed to sweep the state of illegal gambling cafes, and it worked. Internet cafes from Jacksonville to Key West have closed.
But the law's wide net appears to have caught some unintended prey: restaurants, bowling alleys and skating rinks. Chuck E. Cheese's and Dave Buster's. Even Disney World may be a violator.
Experts say the language of the new law throws nearly all arcade games in the state of Florida into a gray area, leaving many business owners worried their games might not be legal. And to make matters worse, there appears to be no state agency where they can get a definitive answer to these questions.
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"It's a very confusing thing," said Anthony Perrone, owner of Pin Chasers. Each of his three bowling centers in the Tampa Bay area has an arcade.
"Our guard is up and we are watching the situation," he said. "We will do what's asked of us."
Rep. Carlos Trujillo, R-Miami, a co-sponsor of the bill to outlaw Internet cafes, told the Tampa Bay Times he believes either the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation or the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services is in charge of enforcement. But officials at each of those agencies say that's wrong.
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement said the law is the responsibility of the State Attorney's Office. The state attorney told the Times to talk to local law enforcement.
One possible reason for the confusion: The ban on Internet cafes came into being quickly in the wake of an investigation that led to the resignation of former Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll, who had ties to an Internet gaming organization authorities said was masquerading as a veterans charity. Lawmakers reacted with lightning speed.
"This bill was railroaded through the Legislature so fast — I mean warp speed — that there was no time taken to understand how this was being done," said Michael Wolf, an attorney for the Florida Arcade and Bingo Association. His group has filed a lawsuit challenging the law.
• • •
Brian Cherry is a partner at United Skates of America, a skating rink and arcade in Tampa that has been in business for more than a half-century. He has 33 arcade games.
"I don't want to be doing anything that's not legal," Cherry said.
And there's the rub. While the law targeted Internet cafes, it also included rules that have existed for decades, but apparently were never enforced:
• All arcade games must be coin-operated, which means games operated by a swipe card are illegal.
• Prizes per game can't be worth more than 75 cents.
• Arcades must have at least 50 machines. Experts said this was created years ago to outlaw backroom gambling machines.
But the biggest concern is a new stipulation that requires all "amusement games or machines" to be games of "skill."
That word — skill — "from a legal standpoint, is a huge, huge change," said Marc Dunbar, an adjunct law professor at Florida State University and a lawyer who focuses on gaming and governmental law.
The law says machines cannot be "casino-style games in which the outcome is determined by factors unpredictable by the player or games in which the player may not control the outcome of the game through skill."
What exactly is a "casino-style" machine?
Dunbar thinks any game that is not purely skill-based, such as air hockey, basketball or Skee-Ball, is in question.
"Was that what the Legislature intended? I doubt it," he said. "But the words on the page are the words on the page."
Dave Buster's, a restaurant-arcade with locations throughout Florida, told the Times it is working with law enforcement to understand the law.
"As we understand it, this legislation is not intended to target restaurant and entertainment companies such as Dave Buster's, Disney and others who operate games of skill," the company said in a statement.
Chuck E. Cheese's, with 26 locations in Florida, said it is taking steps "to ensure that none of our games violate these regulations; which, in any event, we believe are not intended to apply to our business."
On Wednesday at a Clearwater Chuck E. Cheese's, Shawn Lane played Skee-Ball while babysitting a 4-year-old. Lane started with $10 worth of tokens.
"He loves it so much, and I came here all the time as a kid," said Lane, 35, clutching a plastic baggie of tickets. "It'd be absolutely stupid to make it illegal. This is good, American fun."
• • •
Rep. Trujillo acknowledges the law casts a wide net. But Skee-Ball is fine, he said. So are hunting games and driving games.
"Is there one possible game that might not be in compliance? Maybe," he said. "But it's not going to shut down Chuck E. Cheese's."
Unless the language is changed, it appears local law enforcement is in charge of interpreting the law. Hillsborough sheriff's spokesman Larry McKinnon says business owners should contact the agency with any questions.
But this isn't a priority, he said.
"We are not going to be out running through Chuck E. Cheese's or school carnivals looking for violators," he said. "I don't think that was the intent of the law."
Times researcher John Martin and staff writer Danielle Paquette contributed to this report.