Chicopee "Internet Cafe" and Owner Sued for Operating Illegal Gambling Operation in Massachusetts
Temporary Restraining Order Requires Defendants to Preserve Relevant Documents and Prohibits the Dissipation of Assets
BOSTON – A Chicopee Internet café offering casino-style computer games called “Wheel Deal,” “Lucky’s Loot,” and “Snake Eyes” has been sued for running an illegal gambling operation in violation of the Massachusetts Consumer Protection Act, Attorney General Martha Coakley announced today. The complaint seeks to shut down the café and to recover penalties, fees, and unlawful profits from the defendants.
After the lawsuit was filed this week in Suffolk Superior Court, the defendants agreed Thursday to enter a stipulated temporary restraining order (STRO) requiring them to preserve relevant documents and prohibiting them from dissipating assets outside the ordinary course of business.
“We are concerned about companies that pose as legitimate businesses but are no more than illegal operations,” said AG Coakley. “We allege that this café is an unlawful establishment, profiting from unregulated and illegal gambling games with no posted odds, minimum odds, or guarantee of payouts for patrons. Today’s action is just the latest step toward holding accountable businesses that mislead customers and operate in violation of the law.”
According to the complaint, Express Internet Center and its owner Anthony Ardolino promoted illegal gambling through electronic slot machine games in direct violation of the state’s Consumer Protection Act and related regulations enacted in June 2011.
Although Express Internet Center purports to sell Internet time, the complaint alleges that it actually profits from providing access to casino-style computer gambling games. During each transaction, Express Internet Center provides patrons with electronic “points” that the patrons use to play gambling games on the café’s computers. Customers play the games hoping to win additional electronic “points” that can be turned back in for cash – similar to the way a casino uses chips. According to the complaint, the sale of Internet time and computer services are a ruse designed to skirt state laws prohibiting individuals and businesses from soliciting or accepting payment for the chance to win a prize.
The complaint further alleges that Express Internet Center looks and operates very much like an actual casino as it is dimly lit and offers free food and drinks to gambling customers. For example, according to the complaint, the café provides free lunch each week Wednesday through Sunday and every two days provides free pizza to players. The café features 48 individual computer terminals with large, leather armchairs, separated by partitions to offer privacy.
This enforcement action follows the Attorney General’s promulgation of 940 CMR 30.00, Illegal Lotteries, Sweepstakes, and De Facto Gambling. After becoming aware that businesses posing as Internet cafés were, in fact, acting as slot and gambling parlors, the Attorney General promulgated emergency regulations in April 2011. After a public hearing, the gambling regulations became permanent in June 2011. The purpose of the regulations is to enforce long-standing gambling laws as well as protect consumers from unregulated and unlawful businesses. The regulations make clear that businesses offering the opportunity to gamble cannot escape the requirements of the law by disguising themselves as legitimate businesses.
The lawsuit was filed Tuesday in Suffolk Superior Court. The defendants agreed to a stipulated temporary restraining order during a hearing on Thursday afternoon. A second hearing regarding the STRO is scheduled for May 15, 2012 in Suffolk Superior Court.
The AG’s Office has used a combination of civil and criminal enforcement measures to investigate unlawful internet cafés throughout the Commonwealth. A special statewide grand jury returned criminal indictments last year against “Cafeno’s Internet Café” in Chicopee and “Leo’s Place” located in Fall River and Fairhaven. The businesses and their owners currently face charges of organizing or promoting gambling services and operating an illegal lottery.
The Attorney General’s investigation into various Internet cafés throughout the Commonwealth remains ongoing.
This matter is being handled by Assistant Attorney General Gabriel O’Malley, Special Assistant Attorney General, Dante Annicelli, and Investigator Kristen Metzger.