Pittsburg became the latest Bay Area city to prevent the opening of Internet cafes that make sweepstakes-type competitions available to customers who buy time on the computer to enter contests in hopes of winning money.
The City Council voted 5-0 to adopt a 45-day moratorium on the development, establishment and operation of new Internet cafes, which also go by the name of computer gaming businesses. The moratorium goes into effect immediately.
Antioch recently placed a moratorium on new cafes to stop one of three such businesses from reopening while it crafted new operating rules in response to concerns that the businesses attract criminal activity ranging from panhandling to assaults.
"The moratorium is not a ban per se. It's a freezing of the status quo," City Attorney Ruthann Ziegler told council members, adding that some neighboring cities have had increased crime problems associated with Internet cafes.
"This is not a First Amendment issue. We are not regulating the content," she said.
Christine Moore, an attorney who spoke on behalf of the owner of Cot on the Web, an Internet cafe on Railroad Avenue, said there is no record of any problems that have resulted from Internet cafes that would support a temporary moratorium.
She urged Pittsburg council members to adopt a licensing approach to Internet cafes as opposed to a use permit, which can prevent a place from opening in the first place -- similar to what Antioch
"(A license) is issued, but it can be revoked," Moore said.
While state gaming officials consider online sweepstakes contests illegal, they have left enforcement decisions to local governments. Pittsburg has received several requests to open more Internet cafes. A staff report said the moratorium was needed so city officials could study whether Internet cafes should be allowed, and if so, how they should be regulated.
In another matter, council members unanimously approved a $175 million budget for fiscal year 2012-13. Council members had delayed taking action on the budget until after voters weighed in on Measure P.
On June 5, voters overwhelming approved the temporary sales tax measure, which is expected to raise an estimated $2 million a year for the first five years to help close a projected $2.7 million budget gap for fiscal year 2012-13.
Contact Eve Mitchell at 925-779-7189.