Georgia targets Internet-cafe casinos


ATLANTA -- State officials announced this  morning a unified effort to prosecute as many as 100 Internet cafes around the state they say are a cover for illegal gambling that have opened in the last six months.

The cafe owners have told prosecutors they found a loophole in state law.

Gov. Nathan Deal, flanked by legislative leaders, prosecutors and law-enforcement officials, told a Capitol press conference that he intends to fight back.

“Today we’re coming together to send a clear message to an illegal gaming industry and the concerned communities throughout the state of Georgia,” he said. “Our state law prohibits gambling. The code is black and white on that issue.”

Some casinos have as many as 500 computer terminals where customers pay for the chance to win cash prizes. Casino owners rake in “hundreds of thousands of dollars” that they take out of state or even overseas, according to Vernon Keenan, director of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.

He said it’s not concentrated in one part of the state and that local law-enforcement officials from across Georgia have reported it.

Attorney General Sam Olens said his office will assist local prosecutors in court battles over what he called a tortured legal interpretation.

“Illegal gambling is a crime because it tears families apart, it floats criminal enterprises, and it’s a crime that leads to other crimes,” he said.

Conviction on a gambling charge is a felony punishable of one to five years imprisonment. Fines and confiscation of computer equipment are also possible.

Georgia’s constitution prohibits gambling. The voters approved an amendment in the early 1990s to allow the state to operate a lottery to fund education, but Deal said it was carefully crafted to block any other forms of gaming.

These new casinos compete with the state lottery and risk driving down revenues for the HOPE Scholarship and Pre-K Program it funds, he said.


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