SACRAMENTO, CA - Sacramento police shut down an Internet cafe called Copy Planet, which featured sweepstakes games, seizing computers and records.
The Thursday morning raid at 324 Florin Road came as a police spokesman said the operation involved gambling, regardless of the owners claims.
"If you're a business owner in the area, shut your business down because we're going to be there," Sacramento police spokesman Sgt. Andrew Pettit said.
Surprised customers arrived to find the business closed and wondered what would happen to others nearby.
"They've got the one right there on Center Parkway and Mack Road. They've got the ones right there on Stockton Boulevard," one customer said.
At i-Zone, a Internet sweepstakes cafe at Center Parkway, manager Mason Lee compared their sweepstakes system to the the Monopoly sweepstakes game at McDonald's restaurants.
"On your coke and your fries, you get sweepstakes tickets," Lee said. "You pull those off and see whether you won anything or not through the sweepstakes."
Customers buy Internet time or phone cards at the cafes and are rewarded with sweepstakes points. The money they've won or lost is decided at the moment of the purchase, but customers enjoy playing gambling-like games, including keno and blackjack, to find out how much they won when they bought the internet time or phone cards.
"It keeps people off the street. You know, it keeps 'em entertained here," said i-Zone player Mona Gean, who said she also uses the internet she pays for to fill out job applications or check her email.
Gean acknowledged players can get in trouble if they don't set boundaries.
"That has to do with your own pocketbook," Gean said. "You know, you gotta balance your own self and if you can't, well then you're not in good shape."
The Internet sweepstakes cafe phenomenon began in the eastern United States and Midwest and has gradually spread west, according to i-Zone owner Mike Christiansen, who believes the police raid of his competitor is groundless.
"Personally, I think it's totally ridiculous. But it's just a perception and once Sac PD familiarizes themselves with the sweepstakes and how it works and how we are compliant 100 percent with the laws, rules and regulations, I think that's just going to disappear," Christiansen said.
Court cases on Internet sweepstakes cafes are pending in several states, including California.