PITTSBURG -- The City Council extended a moratorium on Internet cafes for another year, a move that will pretty much spell the end for such places that offer online sweepstakes games in East County. The 5-0 vote was taken at Monday night's meeting.
Patrons of Internet cafes can buy blocks of online access time, receiving an electronic card or pin code while using computers to enter a sweepstakes-style competition for a chance to win money. Critics say such games are like gambling and can bring increased criminal activity to areas where Internet cafes are located. Supporters say the cafes are no different from contest promotions included with purchases made at fast-food restaurants and other businesses.
The moratorium prevents the opening of Internet cafes while the city looks into whether they should be permanently banned or allowed to operate under an ordinance establishing rules for their operation. Monday's vote extends the initial moratorium, set to expire June 18, until June 18, 2014, so further study can be done.
Pittsburg enacted its initial moratorium last June, just a few days after an Internet cafe opened in the city. The business was soon closed down because it did not have a proper city license to operate.
A staff report said that lawsuits have been filed in multiple counties throughout the state as to whether Internet cafes are legal businesses or engage in illegal gambling.
State gaming officials view Internet cafes as illegal, but enforcement decisions are left up to local governments. In December, officials issued a law enforcement advisory that said Internet cafes that sell online usage tied to promotional sweepstakes were operating in California.
Antioch passed an ordinance in February 2012 that prevented new Internet cafes from opening but allowed two existing ones to remain open provided they followed rules that governed how they could operate.
Last month Cot on the Web, Antioch's lone Internet cafe, shut down after the city denied a renewal of its business license over safety concerns, and the Oakley City Council approved a permanent ban on Internet cafes with four or more terminals. Brentwood passed an ordinance last year to allow Internet cafes to operate provided they follow certain rules such as having limited hours of operation, video monitoring and an alarm system.
Contact Eve Mitchell at 925-779-7189. Follow her on Twitter.com/EastCounty_Girl.