PITTSBURG -- Council members unanimously agreed Monday to extend a temporary moratorium on the opening of Internet cafes over concerns that they are being used mainly by people to enter online sweepstakes competitions that mimic casino-style slot machine games.
A 45-day moratorium was passed in June banning the opening or operating of Internet access and computing gaming businesses. At Monday's public hearing on the matter, council members voted to extend the moratorium, which was to end Thursday, until next June.
State gaming officials view online sweepstakes as being illegal but have left enforcement decisions up to cities.
Some Internet cafes try to drum up business by selling blocks of online usage time that let patrons use an electronic card or pin code to enter sweepstakes-styles competition for a chance to win more money or additional time at the computer terminal.
The idea behind the extension was to give city staff more time to look into whether Internet cafes should be permitted, and if so, what rules would apply. Among the choices the city is facing is whether to require Internet cafes to obtain a use permit, which means the city could prevent a cafe from opening by denying the permit, or going with a licensing approach.
"There are concerns about the effects these businesses have on local communities," City Attorney Ruthann Ziegler said.
Neighboring Antioch approved a 45-day moratorium in late February that
Pittsburg's initial moratorium was enacted June 18 just days after Interactive Internet opened on Railroad Avenue. Interactive Internet, which is owned by Patricia Simmons, then closed because it didn't have a proper business license. Simmons is also the owner of Cot on the Web in Antioch, along with another Internet cafe in Antioch that was in the process of moving to a new location, but has been unable open again as a result of the moratorium.
Christine Moore, an attorney who spoke on behalf of Simmons at Monday's hearing, urged Pittsburg council members to consider adopting a licensing approach similar to Antioch's and not drag out the process until next June.
"We would just request the city of Pittsburg be just as expeditious in that process," Moore said.
Moore also questioned whether extending the moratorium was being done to prevent Simmon's Internet cafe from opening.
Ziegler said there was no intent to single out an individual business.
"We are being responsible and responsive to concerns by requesting an extension of the moratorium," she said.
Reach Eve Mitchell at 925-779-7189. Follow her on Twitter.com/EastCounty_Girl.