SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) – They look suspiciously like illegal casinos: Computer cafes where you can take your chances on winning cash. Now, one lawmaker is cracking down, proposing a ban that could wipe them out for good.
Critics call it illegal gambling, but the people running these businesses, which are cropping up all over the Bay Area and the state, claim they are really just internet cafes where customers can choose to play games and win cash.
“I am absolutely satisfied as an attorney that the software program and the business does not in any way violate any California gaming or gambling law, period,” attorney John Weston told KPIX 5 last November.
Weston represents cafes in Oakland, Hayward and San Francisco, as well as the software company that makes the programs they use.
His clients’ winning streak may have run out though, because of a new bill proposed in the legislature this week.
“AB1439 goes after the heart of these illegal internet cafes,” said the bill’s sponsor, newly elected Assemblyman Rudy Salas. “ It says ‘if you’re operating a game that mimics anything like a casino slot machine, that’s illegal.’”
Salas says the cafes are attracting prostitutes and criminals wherever they go, and it’s time to stop them. Already a handful of Bay Area cities are going after the cafes: Hayward will ban the gaming software starting next week; San Francisco is suing a café in the Excelsior to try to shut it down; Oakland city officials will meet next week to talk about putting a moratorium on the cafes.
But Salas says he hopes his bill will be the last word statewide.
“This bill that I introduced is going to make that gray area very crystal clear, black and white,” he said.
It could be months before the legislation is approved. Until then, local ordinances could certainly pose a threat to these cafes, but it will be up to each city to enforce them. In Ohio, a similar state law was passed. It shut down all of the cafes within a few months.