Bill would ban cybercafes’ online slots

House speaker says Internet parlors are not playing fair

By Michael Levenson
Globe Staff / July 16, 2011

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House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo, while he seeks to legalize slot machines at the state’s horse tracks, is trying to cut off a burgeoning black market of Internet slot parlors.

DeLeo said yesterday that he is filing legislation to ban so-called cybercafes, storefront operations where gamblers play online slots and other games. Gamblers win points in the games that can be redeemed for cash at the cybercafe.

Several of the venues, which resemble traditional Internet cafes, have cropped up in Springfield, Fall River, New Bedford, and other cities in recent months.

DeLeo’s bill would prohibit the establishments by making it a crime to conduct or promote a sweepstakes with an electronic machine. Offenders would be fined up to $250,000 per machine or could spend up to 15 years in state prison.

“Owners of these establishments are taking advantage of their patrons and scamming them out of money,’’ DeLeo said in a statement. “This is unacceptable, and I look forward to seeing this legislation passed into law.’’

Attorney General Martha Coakley, who has spent several months trying to stop the cafes from proliferating, praised DeLeo’s efforts.

“These cybercafes are really cyber scams with no posted odds, minimum odds, or guarantee of payouts for patrons,’’ she said in a statement. “This bill makes certain that companies cannot skirt our laws.’’

The legislation exempts the state lottery, as well as betting on horse races, bingo, and charitable gambling events.

While DeLeo is attempting to ban the cybercafes, he is also working behind the scenes with Senate President Therese Murray and Governor Deval Patrick on legislation to legalize casino gambling in Massachusetts.

DeLeo, whose district includes Suffolk Downs in East Boston, has emphasized that he also wants the legislation to permit slot parlors at horse tracks, saying they would provide an economic lifeline for the struggling horse-racing industry.

The Legislature plans to debate gambling bills in September, after Labor Day.

Michael Levenson can be reached at mlevenson@ Follow him on Twitter @mlevenson.