City freezes licenses for 'Internet Sweepstakes' cafes

ALBANY -- Are the four "Internet Sweepstakes" cafe's in Albany merely providing a venue for people to access the World Wide Web, or are they a front for illegal gambling?

That's the question which sparked a move by the Albany City Commission Tuesday to place a moratorium on all new business licenses for the Internet cafes, officials say.

Dougherty County Sheriff's Capt. Craig Dodd said that there are currently four of the businesses open in the city of Albany and all four are under investigation by the sheriff's office.

Dodd said that the businesses are violating Georgia's anti-gambling laws because the terminals that are provided in the businesses are connected to Internet gaming sites that require no skill to operate -- a determining factor in deciding whether its an illegal gaming machine or merely entertainment.

"Right now we're at a crossroads," Dodd said. "We believe that these types of businesses are clearly gambling facilities and they say they aren't. The sheriff recommended that the city not give licenses to these places, but they did."

Ward VI Commissioner Tommie Postell said that he's been in one of the businesses and that there is no doubt gambling is going on.

"It's almost like going to Biloxi, except you pay to get a pass onto the computer and that's where you play," Postell said.

City Manager James Taylor told commissioners that there are other people trying to get business licenses to open other Internet cafes around town.

The moratorium as approved by the commission Tuesday will not impact those businesses that are currently open, but will halt consideration of any new permits for 120 days.

Some state legislators have signaled their intention to offer legislation during next year's term of the Georgia General Assembly that would ban the cafes.